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EN­GI­NEERS HAVE worked hard at im­prov­ing in­ter­nal-com­bus­tion en­gines since the ad­vent of the pow­er­plants, way back in the late 1800s. Got­tlieb Daim­ler and Ru­dolf Diesel, two of the first true play­ers in the field of en­gine de­vel­op­ment, worked on ways to in­crease power out­put while re­duc­ing fuel con­sump­tion in their en­gines. Daim­ler tin­kered with a geardriven pump for forced air in­duc­tion as early as 1885.

How­ever, it wasn’t un­til 1905 that tur­bocharg­ers be­gan to take shape, when Swiss en­gi­neer Al­fred Büchi (head of diesel en­gine re­search at Ge­brüder Sulzer) re­ceived a patent for a com­pres­sor driven by ex­haust gases that forced air into a diesel en­gine to in­crease power out­put. It took Al­fred un­til 1925 to get the first suc­cess­ful ex­haust-gas tur­bocharg­ing sys­tem ef­fec­tively ap­plied to an en­gine, re­sult­ing in a more than 40 per­cent power in­crease. These early units were re­ferred to as tur­bo­su­per­charg­ers. At the time, all forced-in­duc­tion de­vices were clas­si­fied as su­per­charg­ers.

A lot of the early ad­vance­ment was hin­dered by the metal and bear­ing tech­nol­ogy avail­able. The ma­te­ri­als were un­able to with­stand the tremen­dous amount of heat and forces ex­erted on them. As bet­ter met­als be­came avail­able for tur­bocharg­ers, the de­vices were ini­tially ap­plied on large ma­rine diesel en­gines. In 1923, two Ger­man pas­sen­ger lin­ers (the Danzig and the Preussen)

were the first (ve­hi­cle or ves­sel) to be out­fit­ted with tur­bod­iesels. The ships’ 10-cylin­der en­gines were able to muster 2,500 hp, while their nor­mally as­pi­rated coun­ter­parts could only pro­duce 1,750 hp. With the ben­e­fits of the ap­pli­ca­tion proven, man­u­fac­tur­ers be­gan ap­ply­ing the tech­nol­ogy to sta­tion­ary and lo­co­mo­tive oil-burn­ers.

Also dur­ing the early years, air­craft en­gines were be­ing set up with ’charg­ers to test the way they ben­e­fited those pow­er­plants’ per­for­mance when sub­jected to high al­ti­tude. In 1918, Gen­eral Elec­tric en­gi­neer San­ford Alexan­der Moss at­tached a tur­bocharger to a V-12 Lib­erty en­gine and demon­strated it at Pikes Peak in Colorado at 14,000 feet. He showed how forced in­duc­tion coun­ters the power loss brought on by the ef­fects of re­duced air pres­sure and den­sity at high al­ti­tude. Two years later, a tur­bocharged 12-cylin­der Lib­erty was mounted in a Le Pere bi­plane and flown to 33,000 feet with no loss of boost.

In 1936, Dr. Werner Theodor von der Nuell started to re­search the first vari­able-ge­om­e­try tur­bocharg­ers (also known as vari­able-noz­zle tur­bines) at the Lab­o­ra­tory for Avi­a­tion in Ber­lin, Ger­many. It was not un­til af­ter World War II that these units were re­ally sought af­ter. Across the pond in the U.S., J. C. “Cliff” Gar­rett was just start­ing to build his busi­ness, with the pro­duc­tion of tur­bocharg­ers and charged-air cool­ers for air­craft com­pa­nies like The Boe­ing Com­pany and Grum­man Air­craft En­gi­neer­ing Cor­po­ra­tion.

The tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances in ma­te­ri­als and de­signs dur­ing World War II and de­vel­op­ment of the gas tur­bine lead to fur­ther ad­vance­ment of tur­bocharg­ers. They could be made more com­pact and re­li­able and bet­ter suited for smaller high­er­speed en­gines. The new units were first ap­plied on diesel-truck en­gines. Even be­fore the war in 1938, Swiss Ma­chine Works Sau­rer de­vel­oped the first tur­bocharged pow­er­plant for a truck.

In 1954, MAN and Volvo be­came the first truck builders to in­tro­duce pro­duc­tion ve­hi­cles pow­ered by tur­bocharged diesels. Trac­tors and con­struc­tion equip­ment also ex­pe­ri­enced the im­ple­men­ta­tion of turbos. Com­pa­nies like Cater­pil­lar un­der­stood the ben­e­fit of an in­crease in power and fuel sav­ings. The 1950s also ush­ered in the de­vel­op­ment of the In­ter­state High­way sys­tem in the U.S., which fu­eled the need for trucks that could keep up with traf­fic while haul­ing heavy pay­loads. This prompted en­gine builders such as Cum­mins, Detroit, and Cater­pil­lar to be­gin of­fer­ing turbos as an op­tion by the late 1960s. In Europe, man­u­fac­tur­ers Scania and Volvo met Ger­man power-to-weight truck reg­u­la­tions by tur­bocharg­ing all their en­gines.

Tur­bocharg­ing was not ini­tially re­ceived well. Many felt it was less re­li­able than nor­mal as­pi­ra­tion and the high in­vest­ment cost was only off­set by fuel sav­ings. That changed dur­ing the first oil cri­sis in 1973, when im­proved tech­nol­ogy showed in­creased fuel mileage and per­for­mance could be achieved. The grow­ing con­cern about emis­sions in the 1980s helped fur­ther boost turbos’ use to the point where al­most ev­ery truck en­gine to­day is equipped with one.

Smaller au­to­mo­tive tur­bod­iesels were first ex­per­i­mented with in the 1960s by the Rover Com­pany, which re­searched a 2.5L I-4 equipped with and with­out an in­ter­cooler. The ’78 Mercedes-Benz 300 SD is the first pas­sen­ger car to use tur­bocharg­ing in the U.S. The en­gine uses a Gar­rett AiRe­search boost provider. In Europe, the Peu­geot has the priv­i­lege of be­ing first.

It wasn’t un­til the 1990s that light trucks built in the U.S. were reg­u­larly out­fit­ted with tur­bocharged diesel en­gines. Ac­tu­ally, in 1989, Dodge be­gan us­ing the 5.9L Cum­mins en­gine in its Ram pick­ups, be­com­ing the first truck man­u­fac­turer to use a tur­bod­iesel. A few years later (in 1992), Gen­eral Mo­tors debuted the tur­bocharged 6.5L Detroit Diesel V-8 pow­er­plants in its trucks. Then Ford fol­lowed suit with the 7.3L Power Stroke V-8 in 1994.

While the tur­bocharger strug­gled for a while to be used reg­u­larly on diesel en­gines, to­day it is hard to think of an oil-burner that does not have at least one turbo. We be­lieve the ben­e­fits of us­ing boost, cou­pled with the tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances of mod­ern pow­er­plants, an­chors the use of tur­bocharg­ers on en­gines for many years to come.




BorgWarner Turbo Sys­tems


STK Turbo Tech­nik




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