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Introduction

A refined engine should be smooth, free of vibration and quiet. These qualities also help the engine to spin freer at
high rpm, raising red line, hence power.
Engine smoothness depends very much on the basic configuration of the engine design - no. of cylinders, how the
cylinders are arranged (in-line, V-shape or horizontally opposed) and the V-angle for V-shape engines. In case a
less favourable configuration is chosen, probably due to packaging or cost reasons, counter weights or balancer
shafts may be used to counter the vibration generated in the price of a little bit energy loss.
Strengthening of the engine block, crankshaft etc. can absorb certain level of vibration and noise. Lastly, the use
of lower friction parts can further enhance smoothness and quietness.
Smooth power delivery
A cylinder takes 720crankshaft angle (i.e., 2 revolutions) to complete 1 cycle of 4-stroke operation. In other
words, it fires once every 2 crankshaft revolutions. Only the power stroke (expansion stroke) generates positive
power, while intake stroke, exhaust stroke and compression stroke consume power, especially the latter.
Therefore a single-cylinder engine generates power in the form of periodic pulse. The below picture shows how
the power be delivered:
To smooth the power delivery, all engines must employ a heavy flywheel, using its inertia to keep the engine
running roughly at constant speed. Of course, the heavier the flywheel, the smoother the power delivery
becomes, but it also makes the engine less responsive. Therefore the pulsation manner of the engine cannot be
completely eliminated by a reasonably large flywheel.
Therefore we need multi-cylinder engines. While single-cylinder engine fires once every 2 revolutions, twin-cylinder
engine fires once every revolution, 3-cylinder fires once every 720 / 3 = 240crank angle, 4-cylinder fires once
every 180(half a revolution) .... 12-cylinder engine fires once every just 60crank angle. Obviously, the more
cylinders the engine has, the smoother the power delivery becomes.
This explain why we prefer V12 engines than in-line 6, although both of them achieve near perfect internal
balance.
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Cause of vibration
Vibration is caused by the movement of the internal parts, especially are pistons and connecting rods. The piston
and con-rod move up and down periodically without counter balanced by other means. If the engine is a single-
cylinder engine, it will jump up and down periodically as well.
In reality, the direction of vibration is not just vertical. Because the connecting rod is not just travelling upward and
downward, but also left and right, there is also some vibration in transverse direction; However, compare with
piston, connecting rod is much lighter, thus the vibration generated by the left / right movement of con-rod is also
much smaller than the up / down vibration by the piston.
What about multi-cylinder engines? That's much more complicated than imagined. We'd better to discuss case by
case.
Inline 2-cylinder engines
As the engine fires once every revolution (or 720/ 2 = 360crankshaft angle), the two pistons run exactly in the
same direction as well as position. That means the total vibration will be twice the magnitude of that generated by
one cylinder. The direction of vibration is mostly upward / downward.
This is the worse engine configuration for refinement, therefore only the cheapest mini cars in the past employed
it, such as Fiat 128, entry-level Fiat Cinquecento and Honda Today etc. Today, I'm afraid there is probably no
mass production car still use twin-cylinder engines, not even the smallest Japanese K-cars. Although the
displacement of K-cars is 660 c.c. and is theoretically more suitable to twin-cylinder, they employs 3-cylinder or
even four-pot to avoid the severe vibration problem of twin-cylinder.
Inline 3-cylinder engines
As the engine fires once every 240crankshaft angle (720/ 3 = 240), the crankshaft design is as shown in the
below picture. (Firing order is: 1-3-2)
It seems that no matter how the crankshaft rotate, the combined
center of gravity of all 3 pistons and con-rods will remain at the
same location, hence no vibration generated. By mathematical
analysis, you can also find there is no forces generated in vertical
direction as well as transverse direction. (actually, I really
performed such calculations) So why did we hear that 3-cylinder
engine need balancer shaft ?
In fact, the calculation is wrong because it assumes the engine is
one point, thus the forces of all 3 cylinders act on this single point and result in complete cancellation. In reality,
the forces act on 3 different locations on the crankshaft, thus instead of canceling one another, they make the
crankshaft vibrating end to end.
Dont understand ? look at the above picture, the side view of the engine. Piston 1 is at the top now and is going
downward, thus generates an upward force to the left end of the crankshaft. Piston 2 is also going downward,
thus generates an upward force to the middle of the crankshaft. Piston 3 is going upward, thus generate a
downward force to the right end of crankshaft. As the engines center of gravity locates in cylinder 2, you can see
forces from piston 1 push the left end of the engine upward while forces from piston 3 push the right end of the
engine downward; After 180rotation, the situation will be completely reversed - downward force at left and
upward force at the right. In other words, this is an end-to-end vibration with respect to the center in cylinder 2.
AutoZine Technical School - Engine http://www.autozine.org/technical_school/engine/smooth1.htm
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End-to-end vibration (shown here is a V6)
Solution - single balancer shaft
Therefore inline-3 engine is better to be equipped with a balancer shaft, driven by crankshaft. There is a weight at
each end of the balancer shaft. The weights move in direction opposite to the direction of the end pistons. When
the piston goes up, the weight goes down. When the piston goes down, the weight goes up. Therefore the
end-to-end vibration can be counter balanced by the balancer shaft which is driven at the same speed as the
crankshaft.
Continue ...
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AutoZine Technical School
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AutoZine Technical School - Engine http://www.autozine.org/technical_school/engine/smooth1.htm
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