Ignition system

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Coil-on-plug ignition module

An ignition system generates a spark or heats an electrode to a high temperature to ignite a fuel-air mixture in spark ignition internal combustion engines, oil-fired and gas-fired boilers, rocket engines, etc. The widest application for spark ignition internal combustion engines is in petrol (gasoline) road vehicles such as cars and motorcycles.


Compression ignition Diesel engines ignite the fuel-air mixture by the heat of compression and do not need a spark. They usually have glowplugs that preheat the combustion chamber to aid starting in cold weather. Other engines may use a flame, or a heated tube, for ignition. While this was common for very early engines it is now rare.

The first electric spark ignition was probably Alessandro Volta's toy electric pistol from the 1780s.

Siegfried Marcus patented his "Electrical igniting device for gas engines" on 7 October 1884. [1]

Magneto and mechanical systems

Ignition magneto systems

Ignition magneto Magnetzuend.jpg
Ignition magneto

An ignition magneto (also called a high-tension magneto) is an older type of ignition system used in spark-ignition engines (such as petrol engines). It uses a magneto and a transformer to make pulses of high voltage for the spark plugs. The older term "high-tension" means "high-voltage".

Used on many cars in the early 20th century, ignition magnetos were largely replaced by induction coil ignition systems. The use of ignition magnetos is now confined mainly to engines without a battery, for example in lawnmowers and chainsaws. It is also used in modern piston-engined aircraft[ citation needed ] (even though a battery is present), to avoid the engine relying on an electrical system.

Induction coil systems

As batteries became more common in cars (due to the increased usage of electric starter motors), magneto systems were replaced by systems using an induction coil. The 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen and the 1908 Ford Model T used a trembler coil ignition system, whereby the trembler interrupted the current through the coil and caused a rapid series of sparks during each firing. The trembler coil would be energized at an appropriate point in the engine cycle. In the Model T, the four-cylinder engine had a trembler coil for each cylinder. [2]

Distributor-based systems

Rotor contacts inside distributor cap Distributor cap of AMC inline-6, underside.jpg
Rotor contacts inside distributor cap

An improved ignition system was invented by Charles Kettering at Delco in the United States and introduced in Cadillac's 1912 cars. [3] The Kettering ignition system consisted of a single ignition coil, breaker points, a capacitor (to prevent the points from arcing at break) and a distributor (to direct the electricity from the ignition coil to the correct cylinder). The Kettering system became the primary ignition system for many years in the automotive industry due to its lower cost and relative simplicity.[ citation needed ]

Electronic systems

The first electronic ignition (a cold cathode type) was tested in 1948 by Delco-Remy, [4] while Lucas introduced a transistorized ignition in 1955, which was used on BRM and Coventry Climax Formula One engines in 1962. [4] The aftermarket began offering EI that year, with both the AutoLite Electric Transistor 201 and Tung-Sol EI-4 (thyratron capacitive discharge) being available. [5] Pontiac became the first automaker to offer an optional EI, the breakerless magnetic pulse-triggered Delcotronic, on some 1963 models; it was also available on some Corvettes. [5] The first commercially available all solid-state (SCR) capacitive discharge ignition was manufactured by Hyland Electronics in Canada also in 1963. Ford fitted a FORD designed breakerless system on the Lotus 25s entered at Indianapolis the next year, ran a fleet test in 1964, and began offering optional EI on some models in 1965. This electronic system was utilized on the GT40s campaigned by Shelby American and Holman and Moody. Robert C. Hogle, Ford Motor Company, presented the, "Mark II-GT Ignition and Electrical System", Publication #670068, at the SAE Congress, Detroit, Michigan, January 9–13, 1967. Beginning in 1958, Earl W. Meyer at Chrysler worked on EI, continuing until 1961 and resulting in use of EI on the company's NASCAR hemis in 1963 and 1964. [5]

Prest-O-Lite's CD-65, which relied on capacitance discharge (CD), appeared in 1965, and had "an unprecedented 50,000 mile warranty." [5] (This differs from the non-CD Prest-O-Lite system introduced on AMC products in 1972, and made standard equipment for the 1975 model year.) [5] A similar CD unit was available from Delco in 1966, [4] which was optional on Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and GMC vehicles in the 1967 model year. [5] Also in 1967, Motorola debuted their breakerless CD system. [5] The most famous aftermarket electronic ignition which debuted in 1965, was the Delta Mark 10 capacitive discharge ignition, which was sold assembled or as a kit.

The Fiat Dino was the first production car to come standard with EI in 1968, followed by the Jaguar XJ Series 1 [6] in 1971, Chrysler (after a 1971 trial) in 1973 and by Ford and GM in 1975. [5]

In 1967, Prest-O-Lite made a "Black Box" ignition amplifier, intended to take the load off the distributor's breaker points during high rpm runs, which was used by Dodge and Plymouth on their factory Super Stock Coronet and Belvedere drag racers. [5] This amplifier was installed on the interior side of the cars' firewall, and had a duct which provided outside air to cool the unit.[ citation needed ] The rest of the system (distributor and spark plugs) remains as for the mechanical system. The lack of moving parts compared with the mechanical system leads to greater reliability and longer service intervals.

A variation coil-on-plug ignition has each coil handle two plugs, on cylinders which are 360 degrees out of phase (and therefore reach top dead center (TDC) at the same time); in the four-cycle engine this means that one plug will be sparking during the end of the exhaust stroke while the other fires at the usual time, a so-called "wasted spark" arrangement which has no drawbacks apart from faster spark plug erosion; the paired cylinders are 1/4 and 2/3 on four cylinder arrangements, 1/4, 6/3, 2/5 on six cylinder engines and 6/7, 4/1, 8/3 and 2/5 on V8 engines. [7] Other systems do away with the distributor as a timing apparatus and use a magnetic crank angle sensor mounted on the crankshaft to trigger the ignition at the proper time.

Engine management

In an Engine Management System (EMS), electronics control fuel delivery and ignition timing. Primary sensors on the system are crankshaft angle (crankshaft or TDC position), airflow into the engine and throttle position. The circuitry determines which cylinder needs fuel and how much, opens the requisite injector to deliver it, then causes a spark at the right moment to burn it. Early EMS systems used an analogue computer to accomplish this, but as embedded systems dropped in price and became fast enough to keep up with the changing inputs at high revolutions, digital systems started to appear.

Some designs using an EMS retain the original ignition coil, distributor and high-tension leads found on cars throughout history. Other systems dispense with the distributor altogether and have individual coils mounted directly atop each spark plug. This removes the need for both distributor and high-tension leads, which reduces maintenance and increases long-term reliability.

Modern EMSs read in data from various sensors about the crankshaft position, intake manifold temperature, intake manifold pressure (or intake air volume), throttle position, fuel mixture via the oxygen sensor, detonation via a knock sensor, and exhaust gas temperature sensors. The EMS then uses the collected data to precisely determine how much fuel to deliver and when and how far to advance the ignition timing. With electronic ignition systems, individual cylinders[ citation needed ] can have their own individual timing so that timing can be as aggressive as possible per cylinder without fuel detonation. As a result, sophisticated electronic ignition systems can be both more fuel efficient, and produce better performance over their counterparts.

Turbine, jet and rocket engines

Gas turbine engines, including jet engines, have a CDI system using one or more igniter plugs, which are only used at startup or in case the combustor(s) flame goes out.

Rocket engine ignition systems are especially critical. If prompt ignition does not occur, the combustion chamber can fill with excess fuel and oxidiser and significant overpressure can occur (a "hard start") or even an explosion. Rockets often employ pyrotechnic devices that place flames across the face of the injector plate, or, alternatively, hypergolic propellants that ignite spontaneously on contact with each other. The latter types of engines do away with ignition systems entirely and cannot experience hard starts, but the propellants are highly toxic and corrosive. SpaceX's Raptor engine used for Starship and Super Heavy and the RS-25 engine used as the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) used spark-ignition system. The Raptor engine needed to use spark-ignition because astronauts can not make pyrotechnic ignition systems or refill hypergolic fuel supply on the Moon or Mars, because the Lunar and Martian resources are very different from the resources of Earth.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ignition magneto</span> Part of an engines ignition system

An ignition magneto is an older type of ignition system used in spark-ignition engines. It uses a magneto and a transformer to make pulses of high voltage for the spark plugs. The older term "high-tension" means "high-voltage".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Spark plug</span> Device that generates sparks in internal combustion engines

A spark plug is an electrical device used in an internal combustion engine to produce a spark which ignites the air-fuel mixture in the combustion chamber. As part of the engine's ignition system, the spark plug receives high-voltage electricity which it uses to generate a spark in the small gap between the positive and negative electrodes. The timing of the spark is a key factor in the engine's behaviour, and the spark plug usually operates shortly before the combustion stroke commences.

In spark ignition internal combustion engines, knocking occurs when combustion of some of the air/fuel mixture in the cylinder does not result from propagation of the flame front ignited by the spark plug, but when one or more pockets of air/fuel mixture explode outside the envelope of the normal combustion front. The fuel-air charge is meant to be ignited by the spark plug only, and at a precise point in the piston's stroke. Knock occurs when the peak of the combustion process no longer occurs at the optimum moment for the four-stroke cycle. The shock wave creates the characteristic metallic "pinging" sound, and cylinder pressure increases dramatically. Effects of engine knocking range from inconsequential to completely destructive.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Engine tuning</span> Optimisation of engine performance

Engine tuning is the adjustment or modification of the internal combustion engine or Engine Control Unit (ECU) to yield optimal performance and increase the engine's power output, economy, or durability. These goals may be mutually exclusive; an engine may be de-tuned with respect to output power in exchange for better economy or longer engine life due to lessened stress on engine components.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Contact breaker</span>

A contact breaker is a type of electrical switch, found in the ignition systems of spark-ignition internal combustion engines. The switch is automatically operated by a cam driven by the engine. The timing of operation of the switch is set so that a spark is produced at the right time to ignite the compressed air/fuel mixture in the cylinder of the engine. A mechanism may be provided to slightly adjust timing to allow for varying load on the engine. Since these contacts operate frequently, they are subject to wear, causing erratic ignition of the engine. More recent engines use electronic means to trigger the spark, which eliminated contact wear and allows computer control of ignition timing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Distributor</span> Device in the ignition system of an internal combustion engine

A distributor is an electric and mechanical device used in the ignition system of older spark ignition engines. The distributor's main function is to route electricity from the ignition coil to each spark plug at the correct time.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ford Model T engine</span> Motor vehicle engine

The Ford Model T used a 177 cu in (2.9 L) sidevalve, reverse-flow cylinder head inline 4-cylinder engine. It was primarily a gasoline engine. It produced 20 hp (14.9 kW) for a top speed of 45 mph (72 km/h). It was built in-unit with the Model T's novel transmission, sharing the same lubricating oil.

A wasted spark system is a type of ignition system used in some four-stroke cycle internal combustion engines. In a wasted spark system, the spark plugs fire in pairs, with one plug in a cylinder on its compression stroke and the other plug in a cylinder on its exhaust stroke. The extra spark during the exhaust stroke has no effect and is thus "wasted". This design halves the number of components necessary in a typical ignition system, while the extra spark, against much reduced dielectric resistance, barely impacts the lifespan of modern ignition components. In a typical engine, it requires only about 2–3 kV to fire the cylinder on its exhaust stroke. The remaining coil energy is available to fire the spark plug in the cylinder on its compression stroke.

Lean-burn refers to the burning of fuel with an excess of air in an internal combustion engine. In lean-burn engines the air:fuel ratio may be as lean as 65:1. The air / fuel ratio needed to stoichiometrically combust gasoline, by contrast, is 14.64:1. The excess of air in a lean-burn engine emits far less hydrocarbons. High air–fuel ratios can also be used to reduce losses caused by other engine power management systems such as throttling losses.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alfa Romeo Twin Spark engine</span> Motor vehicle engine

Alfa Romeo Twin Spark (TS) technology was used for the first time in the Alfa Romeo Grand Prix car in 1914. In the early 1960s it was used in their race cars (GTA, TZ) to enable it to achieve a higher power output from its engines. And in the early and middle 1980s, Alfa Romeo incorporated this technology into their road cars to enhance their performance and to comply with stricter emission controls.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ignition coil</span> Automobile fuel ignition system component

An ignition coil is used in the ignition system of a spark-ignition engine to transform the battery voltage to the much higher voltages required to operate the spark plug(s). The spark plugs then use this burst of high-voltage electricity to ignite the air-fuel mixture.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Capacitor discharge ignition</span>

Capacitor discharge ignition (CDI) or thyristor ignition is a type of automotive electronic ignition system which is widely used in outboard motors, motorcycles, lawn mowers, chainsaws, small engines, turbine-powered aircraft, and some cars. It was originally developed to overcome the long charging times associated with high inductance coils used in inductive discharge ignition (IDI) systems, making the ignition system more suitable for high engine speeds. The capacitive-discharge ignition uses capacitor discharge current to the coil to fire the spark plugs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ignition timing</span>

In a spark ignition internal combustion engine, ignition timing is the timing, relative to the current piston position and crankshaft angle, of the release of a spark in the combustion chamber near the end of the compression stroke.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hit-and-miss engine</span>

A hit-and-miss engine or Hit 'N' Miss is a type of stationary internal combustion engine that is controlled by a governor to only fire at a set speed. They are usually 4-stroke but 2-stroke versions were made. It was conceived in the late 19th century and produced by various companies from the 1890s through approximately the 1940s. The name comes from the speed control on these engines: they fire ("hit") only when operating at or below a set speed, and cycle without firing ("miss") when they exceed their set speed. This is as compared to the "throttle governed" method of speed control. The sound made when the engine is running without a load is a distinctive "Snort POP whoosh whoosh whoosh whoosh snort POP" as the engine fires and then coasts until the speed decreases and it fires again to maintain its average speed. The snorting is caused by the atmospheric intake valve used on many of these engines.

Trionic T5.5 is an engine management system in the Saab Trionic range. It controls ignition, fuel injection and turbo boost pressure. The system was introduced in the 1993 Saab 9000 2.3 Turbo with B234L and B234R engine.

Inductive discharge ignition systems were developed in the 19th century as a means to ignite the air–fuel mixture in the combustion chamber of internal combustion engines. The first versions were low tension coils, then low-tension and in turn high-tension magnetos, which were offered as a more effective alternative to the older-design hot-tube ignitors that had been utilized earlier on hot tube engines. With the advent of small stationary engines; and with the development of the automobile, engine-driven tractors, and engine-driven trucks; first the magneto and later the distributor-type systems were utilized as part of an efficient and reliable engine ignition system on commercially available motorized equipment. These systems were in widespread use on all cars and trucks through the 1960s. Manufacturers such as Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Citroen, Mercedes, John Deere, International Harvester, and many others incorporated them into their products. The inductive discharge system is still extensively used today.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dual ignition</span>

Dual Ignition is a system for spark-ignition engines, whereby critical ignition components, such as spark plugs and magnetos, are duplicated. Dual ignition is most commonly employed on aero engines, and is sometimes found on cars and motorcycles.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Trembler coil</span>

A trembler coil, buzz coil or vibrator coil is a type of high-voltage ignition coil used in the ignition system of early automobiles, most notably the Benz Patent-Motorwagen and the Ford Model T. Its distinguishing feature is a vibrating magnetically-activated contact called a trembler or interrupter, which breaks the primary current, generating multiple sparks during each cylinder's power stroke. Trembler coils were first used on the 1886 Benz automobile, and were used on the Model T until 1927.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Internal combustion engine</span> Engine in which the combustion of a fuel occurs with an oxidizer in a combustion chamber

An internal combustion engine is a heat engine in which the combustion of a fuel occurs with an oxidizer in a combustion chamber that is an integral part of the working fluid flow circuit. In an internal combustion engine, the expansion of the high-temperature and high-pressure gases produced by combustion applies direct force to some component of the engine. The force is typically applied to pistons, turbine blades, a rotor, or a nozzle. This force moves the component over a distance, transforming chemical energy into kinetic energy which is used to propel, move or power whatever the engine is attached to.


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