Innovation in Engine Design

Many times people ask me if it is possible to make an engine like our CCI that is so efficient and compact, why have the big companies that have been working in engines for decades not done it yet?  The answer is they cannot.

Most of the big automotive and equipment makers who manufacture millions of their own engines per year do not have the capability to develop innovative new designs.  The lack in capability is both technical and philosophical.  Designing engines is a complex undertaking with many different factors that interplay with each other.  No change is simple.  People have spent entire careers learning all the intricacies of the slider-crank mechanism in the SI and diesel engines of today.  When you put an idea in front of them that challenges what they “know”, they have a very hard time accepting it.  I’ve often found that the more someone knows about engines, the harder it is to explain the CCI to them.  This is not because they are finding deficiencies in the design, but because it gets harder for them to break out of their box that has been reinforced for years.  Additionally, engineers at these companies have forgotten the basic science behind the things they know about engines.  Engineers responsible for designing engines at the major OEMS no longer know how to start with second law thermodynamic analysis and derive a new design.  Instead, they start with an existing engine (or a “new” engine near enough to existing ones), modify it and use software to tell them if the thermodynamics are improved.

Additionally, there are philosophical challenges in the corporate culture.  These companies have become very risk averse, and they have become very dependent on the slider-crank mechanism.  They have spent so much time and money to optimize this mechanism that it seems crazy to them to move beyond it.  If they know their competitors are similarly averse to upsetting the status quo then they have very little motivation to step out of the box.

This means that any innovation from the major OEM’s is in incremental, non-fundamental changes.  Things like variable valve timing, direct injection in SI engines, multi-stage turbo-charging – these are advances to be sure, but they hardly take much imagination and the benefits they provide are tiny compared to what is possible when you throw the otto cycle or diesel cycle out of the window and start out with something fundamentally better.

That is where a startup comes in.  We do not have the historical entrenchment in the slider-crank.  We do not have an existing business that we can nurse along and enjoy the profits.  We are required to figure out a way to make something that is so much better for the customer that it simply cannot be ignored, even though most of the engine world has their heads in the sand.  The only way for us to do this is to go back to the basics and figure out how to make the slider-crank obsolete.

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