18 May, 2015


Founded in the early 1990s, the Engine Rebuilders Association (ERA) strives to improve the overall levels of service in the engine remanufacturing sector. Strict guidelines are set out for any engineering shop wishing to become a member and a voluntary self-grading process categorises these members once they've joined. This helps ensure that customers are able to engage with the correct service provider, depending on their needs. The ERA is a registered constituent of the RMI.

The morning session of the ERA conference at this year's Automechanika trade fair for the automotive aftermarket welcomed two fascinating and informative speakers. Prof At Von Wielligh, a revered expert and regular attendee of the conference, as well as Paul Grosvenor, from Mahle UK.

Prof Von Wielligh has spent a lifetime studying and consulting on all things engine-related. His address this year was titled, 'Hang the Right Man', and explored the need for accurate fault diagnosis. With a focus on diesel engines, the Prof zoomed in on fuel quality, fuel contamination, test bench reliability and replacement parts, amongst others, as the chief reasons for engine failure.

Contradicting what is often and incorrectly diagnosed as injector failure, Von Wielligh cited poor quality and dirty fuel as the first offender. These issues cause injectors to malfunction resulting in catastrophic engine damage. Problems as complex and as far reaching as additives added at the fuel depot to additives being left out of a prescribed fuel mix can cause injectors to stick open and over-fuel the combustion chamber.

The Professor went on to relate a personal experience where test bench results show injectors working perfectly, only to see those same injectors failing when fitted and on the road. The jury is still out as to why this would be. Other problems such as carbon deposit build up on the exhaust valves can cause those valves to stick open or fail to close quickly enough, severely and terminally damaging engine internals. Incorrect replacement parts are another weak link - a stern warning going out to engine rebuilders to use OEM specified parts and not to fall into the "cheap import" trap.

An interesting conclusion to At Von Wielligh's address was an introduction to high tech, cutting edge gas engines currently being used in Germany for electricity generation. With the search for alternative power sources being foremost in many a South African mind, the wood-chip burning gas generator - powering a diesel style 12 cylinder motor - looks like a system warranting further investigation.

Paul Grosvenor, here from the UK to attend Automechanika Johannesburg, lead us through what Mahle sees as the future of the petrol engine. With CO² emissions and the need for better fuel efficiency driving the changes, downsizing has already made a huge impact on the international and the local market. Smaller cubic capacities and reduced numbers of cylinders are a starting point. Turbocharging these mini-mills is a must.

What follows is a search for "small, incremental improvements" touching on reduction in individual component weight, heat management - individual and separate cooling systems for the head and the block as an example - and improvements in turbo technology. A Mahle designed and built 3 cylinder 1.2-litre engine on long term test in a Volkswagen vehicle is producing 120kw and over 280nm of torque, and is doing so reliably.

Grosvenor says the petrol engine is here to stay. Whether on its own, in conjunction with an electric motor in a hybrid vehicle or as a range extender in a full electric car, this tried and tested (but now massively refined) technology seemingly still has its place.