Inject some knowledge

Frank Massey examines the changing role of fuel injectors, and the problems you can come up against when dealing with these components

By Frank Massey | Published:  17 September, 2018

At the heart of fuel delivery is the injector. If there is a single focus point that has helped reduce emissions and boost performance it’s the injector. Despite this, we don’t pay it enough attention, and I include myself in this critique. Let me qualify this by asking a rhetorical question; How many of you have injector bench test capability?

I do, but freely admit to not giving it a more prominent position in fault diagnosis. I am going to expand later just how intrusive testing should be conducted. To begin, a short trip down memory lane won’t do any harm in understanding basic problems.
    
Injector problems started in earnest when lead was removed from gasoline. The Nissan 1.8 turbo and Austin Montego 2.0efi were two of the most problematic examples. Both used 15ohm single event saturated triggering with approximately 1-amp peak current. This was back in the days when we were not measuring current nor did we have an injector bench.
All the diagnostic evidence came from the 4-gas analyser. CO and O2 should balance at approximately  0.5%, as this will achieve a near perfect lambda 1 ratio, 50-100, CO2 at its highest at around 17-18%.
    
A lot has happened since then. The key to ideal fuelling is in reducing the lag or dead time in injector response to PCM control. As engine power increased and turbos became almost mandatory, more fuel was required. To achieve these aims, opening times were increased to a point where they were in danger of colliding at high engine RPM. We are still talking port injection here, fuel pressures crept up to four-bar and high flow injectors started to be introduced.

Current ramping also changed to peak and hold with peak values of around 4-amps. For the time being things stabilised, with little or no obvious common injector problems. The next challenge manufacturers faced was to reduce the internal mass of the injector components. In plain English they got smaller, lighter, less robust, and with lead free legislation less reliable. Remember Fiat iaw injectors?

Precise control
As EU emission rules became more stringent, the need for even more precise control was inevitable, and along came direct high-pressure injection. Lets explore the variables of fuel transportation, variable delivery pressure 50-200bar, multiple injector strikes and adjustable delivery timing. Peak current now reached 10-amps and pwm switching became commonplace.
We now have gasoline injection that more  closely resembles diesel injection protocols. They also bring similar problems. Fuel is no longer delivered through the inlet port, leading to a build up of carbon behind the valves. This effect, the critical swirl in the cylinder, is essential for complete combustion. Filtration and fuel quality are now major considerations for reliability.

Hostile environments and anomolies
Injectors are now mounted in a more hostile environment, more pressure, more heat, more tip carbon. So, the need for testing and cleaning has come full circle from the lead-free era. A major problem here is the stress caused to the injector body by techs not using the correct removal tool.

Remember the comments on lighter internal mass; This means than bending stresses during removal leads to intermittent combustion anomalies. I do love that word, it more accurately describes incomplete combustion, often without any credible serial fault data.

New fault phenomena
Now let’s notch it up a bit and introduce some new fault phenomena. The internals are so light they can suffer mechanical failure, and the closure spring can break. The internal filter basket has been moved to a more central position, resulting in inaccessibility for replacement.

The use of fuel additives, something I used to support, is now dissolving the nylon baskets.
Just when you think you have a grasp on current problems along comes the new kid on the block, compression seal failure causing injector malfunction due to thermal intrusion. This is a major problem with Porsche, leading to engine failure because of localised bore wash.    

Onto bench testing then. The ASNU bench provides for a range of test programmes, open period, frequency, and open pintle flow evaluation. It also provides critical inductance values. This represents the net energy value of the coil energisation, this is also affected by the movement of the pintle through the magnetic field. So how do we apply the true operating environment condition?

The answer is we can’t we have to be a lot more intuitive in our diagnostics when dealing with combustion anomalies. One interesting trait with the Porsche injector problem is the injector frequency changes when it fails. So, we are currently working on vibration analysis across injector types.

The problems don’t get less – just more complicated and more interesting.  

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