Top tips for automotive valve technology

Louise Davis

We meet the experts who are setting out to bring intelligence to automotive valve technology

In a Q&A discussing their smart approach to variable valve timing, Mark Gostick, COO and Roger Stone, technical director, explain why Camcon Automotive is set to shake up automotive valve solutions.

What does intelligent valve technology do?

Mark Gostick (MG). Our intelligent valve technology (IVT) replaces the traditional camshaft with a set of digitally controlled electric motors, breaking the mechanical link – until now via a belt or chain - to the crankshaft.

This is a real step change in engine development. From fuelling to spark timing, all other key combustion process parameters have been under digital control for some time now, but engine breathing has been stuck under the control of increasingly complex, but essentially mechanical, variable valvetrain systems.

With IVT, there are no timing belts or valve springs, with each valve getting its own precision electrical actuator driving a miniature camshaft, complete with a desmodromic system that opens and closes the valves precisely and mechanically. The system enables the valves to be infinitely controlled.

As a result, we can give the engine exactly what it wants at low revs, and exactly what it wants at higher revs, and anywhere in between – you don’t have to compromise at all. You can change timing, duration, lift, even shape the events if you want. You can do double events. You can change the profile of your camshaft between one event and the next. You can go from your idle setting to 100% throttle in one revolution. You can do pretty much anything. You’ve got what we like to call a digital camshaft.

I would say that it is as big a leap forward as the introduction of electronically controlled ignition and the change from carburetors to fuel injection. It allows us to have bringing enormous benefits, capable of slashing CO2 emissions by up to 20% and improving fuel consumption by a similar amount. It has the potential to reduce other types of harmful emissions such as NOx and can also improve power, torque and overall driveability.

Was there a ‘eureka’ moment? Not really – more along the Edison model – lots and lots of perspiration with the odd moment of inspiration. But inspiration in steps rather than ‘that’s it” for the whole thing!

What stage of development have you reached with your IVT?

Roger Stone (RS): We have IVT fitted on the inlet side of a Jaguar Land Rover Ingenium petrol engine at our test centre – and we also have a dynamic prototype vehicle featuring IVT too. Over the past seven years, the majority of the development of IVT has taken place in-house but throughout that time we have had a crucial R&D partner in the shape of Jaguar Land Rover, which has shown tremendous support and foresight. We’ve carried out more than 1,000 hours of dynamometer testing and this prototype system has demonstrated fuel economy improvements of 7.5%, a figure that only scratches the surface of the technology’s potential. We believe with transient calibration and proper vehicle integration, we could show CO2 benefits of up to 20%. We’re now in the process of making 16-valve engines, that’s inlet and exhaust, and we’ll be running that when it’s ready.

When can we see IVT in a car on sale?

MG: We are having extremely encouraging conversations with a host of OEMs and Tier 1s and expect the system to reach the marketplace in the early 2020s.

Are we talking Europe or further afield?

MG: We’re focusing on Japan and China, purely because from an industry perspective we feel those are the areas that will be most receptive to what we’re trying to do.

It’s a combination of the political environment, their attitudes to innovation and risk, and how mature they are in terms of thought process about future powertrains. They have taken a portfolio approach with battery vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and for other applications there’s pure ICE vehicles. I think they’re further along in their thought process about what hybrids of the future will look like, what ICE engine characteristics they will need and their market share versus pure BEVs, than OEMs in Europe.

What advances have made IVT possible now?

RS: Electromechanically, you could look at IVT and ask ‘why didn’t you do that 20 years ago?’ The difference is twofold – firstly, advances in rare earth magnets have enabled us to build the torque-dense motors required for IVT. Secondly, and more importantly, only now is it possible to obtain automotive-grade electronics with the speed and computing power required for this application. So now you can actually put real-time control on top of these motors.

Could IVT be another nail in the coffin of diesel? how much does the system cost?

RS: Diesel sales in Europe are down because of ‘Dieselgate’ and other factors. Whereas it used to be 50% or more of total car sales, now it’s down in the 30s. Clearly, one of the consequences from that is that CO2 emissions in Europe are now going up again, because people are turning back toward petrol-engined cars that put out more CO2 than the diesel engines do.

So having a system that can reduce CO2 emissions in such vehicles is obviously attractive to car makers. But there are other factors to consider too: IVT offers diesel-level efficiency and fuel economy with much lower NOx emissions. In terms of how much our solution costs, we can’t go into specifics just yet, but it’s certainly less than the cost of building a diesel engine rather than petrol.  

With EV sales increasing, isn’t the petrol engine dead anyway?

RS: You won’t be surprised to find that we think rumours of the petrol engine’s death have been greatly exaggerated. But that’s not because we’re Luddites. Look at any predictive report and you’ll find the same answer: global vehicle volumes are set to rise (up to 115 million cars by the middle of the next decade – up from 94 million last year) and the vast majority of those vehicles will be hybrids with some kind of internal combustion engine. IVT has a major role to play here.

IVT lends itself very well to hybrid applications – deletion of the timing drive makes the engine shorter allowing a given hybrid package to fit in a smaller vehicle or to allow a more powerful or more efficient electrical machine to be used for the electrified element of the powertrain. What’s more, thanks to IVT’s flexibility, the engine’s motoring torque can be reduced at will, so switching it off and on is not just faster but uses less energy, allowing more frequent restarts, further improving efficiency. There are many other ways in which IVT can be used to improve the integration of the ICE and electrical elements of hybrid powertrains, including battery size optimisation.

We can play with all sorts of different cycles on the move and because IVT is infinitely adaptable, it’s possible to ‘geo-tune’, optimising for low NOx in an urban environment or especially low CO₂ in a rural cruise. There are huge NVH benefits too: IVT is much quieter, with very low noise levels when switching the engine on and off, improving the hybrid vehicle refinement. We think there is a very bright future for the petrol engine.

What do you think will be the biggest challenge faced by the automotive industry over the next decade?

RS: The technology most likely to affect petrol engines over that 10-year period is not a specific gadget or product at all – it is the introduction of RDE emission testing. This is a game changer, eliminating the effect of the much misunderstood and misrepresented standard test cycles.

These cycles were only ever meant to be a rough approximation to real life. There was no technology that allowed genuine road testing and the cycles were used as a means to obtain indicative results and thereby deliver a reducing emissions trend – which they have done. Now that portable emissions measuring system (PEMS) equipment is available, it is possible to measure emissions in real world circumstances and to apply regulated levels to these tests. This will be hugely more demanding for the calibration engineers to achieve and will drive change in the industry. As it happens IVT should be a tool that helps to deliver consistently low levels of all types of emissions regardless of the testing regime.



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