Inlet Manifold - Volumetric Efficiency

Volumetric Efficiency

See also: Cylinder head porting

The design and orientation of the intake manifold is a major factor in the volumetric efficiency of an engine. Abrupt contour changes provoke pressure drops, resulting in less air (and/or fuel) entering the combustion chamber; high-performance manifolds have smooth contours and gradual transitions between adjacent segments.

Modern intake manifolds usually employ runners, individual tubes extending to each intake port on the cylinder head which emanate from a central volume or "plenum" beneath the carburetor. The purpose of the runner is to take advantage of the Helmholtz resonance property of air. Air flows at considerable speed through the open valve. When the valve closes, the air that has not yet entered the valve still has a lot of momentum and compresses against the valve, creating a pocket of high pressure. This high-pressure air begins to equalize with lower-pressure air in the manifold. Due to the air's inertia, the equalization will tend to oscillate: At first the air in the runner will be at a lower pressure than the manifold. The air in the manifold then tries to equalize back into the runner, and the oscillation repeats. This process occurs at the speed of sound, and in most manifolds travels up and down the runner many times before the valve opens again.

The smaller the cross-sectional area of the runner, the higher the pressure changes on resonance for a given airflow. This aspect of Helmholz resonance reproduces one result of the Venturi effect. When the piston accelerates downwards, the pressure at the output of the intake runner is reduced. This low pressure pulse runs to the input end, where it is converted into an over-pressure pulse. This pulse travels back through the runner and rams air through the valve. The valve then closes.

To harness the full power of the Helmholtz resonance effect, the opening of the intake valve must be timed correctly, otherwise the pulse could have a negative effect. This poses a very difficult problem for engines, since valve timing is dynamic and based on engine speed, whereas the pulse timing is static and dependent on the length of the intake runner and the speed of sound. The traditional solution has been to tune the length of the intake runner for a specific engine speed where maximum performance is desired. However, modern technology has given rise to a number of solutions involving electronically controlled valve timing (for example Valvetronic), and dynamic intake geometry (see below).

As a result of "resonance tuning", some naturally aspirated intake systems operate at a volumetric efficiency above 100%: the air pressure in the combustion chamber before the compression stroke is greater than the atmospheric pressure. In combination with this intake manifold design feature, the exhaust manifold design, as well as the exhaust valve opening time can be so calibrated as to achieve greater evacuation of the cylinder. The exhaust manifolds achieve a vacuum in the cylinder just before the piston reaches top dead center. The opening inlet valve can then—at typical compression ratios—fill 10% of the cylinder before beginning downward travel. Instead of achieving higher pressure in the cylinder, the inlet valve can stay open after the piston reaches bottom dead center while the air still flows in.

In some engines the intake runners are straight for minimal resistance. In most engines, however, the runners have curves...and some very convoluted to achieve desired runner length. These turns allow for a more compact manifold, with denser packaging of the whole engine, as a result. Also, these "snaked" runners are needed for some variable length/ split runner designs, and allow the size of the plenum to be reduced. In an engine with at least six cylinders the averaged intake flow is nearly constant and the plenum volume can be smaller. To avoid standing waves within the plenum it is made as compact as possible. The intake runners each use a smaller part of the plenum surface than the inlet, which supplies air to the plenum, for aerodynamic reasons. Each runner is placed to have nearly the same distance to the main inlet. Runners, whose cylinders fire close after each other, are not placed as neighbors.

"180-degree intake manifolds"....Originally designed for carburetor V8 engines, the two plane, split plenum intake manifold separates the intake pulses which the manifold experiences by 180 degrees in the firing order. This minimizes interference of one cylinder's pressure waves with those of another, giving better torque from smooth mid-range flow. Such manifolds may have been originally designed for either two- or four-barrel carburetors, but now are used with both throttle-body and multi-point fuel injection. An example of the latter is the Honda J engine which converts to a single plane manifold around 3500 rpm for greater peak flow and horsepower.

"Heat Riser" obsolete, earlier manifolds ...with 'wet runners' for carbureted engines...used exhaust gas diversion through the intake manifold to provide vaporizing heat. The amount of exhaust gas flow diversion was controlled by a heat riser valve in the exhaust manifold, and employed a bi-metallic spring which changed tension according to the heat in the manifold. Today's fuel-injected engines do not require such devices.

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