Patent: Ford Wants to Tip Intake Valves to Improve Performance

Despite being some 30-odd years old now, Chevrolet’s Vortec heads are still highly sought after among that crowd because they offer better performance thanks to the creation of a vortex within the combustion chamber. Ford’s now working on its vortex innovation, according to a new patent application, that will make bigger, better, and more controllable vortices within the combustion chamber.

US patent 0051623 for an “intake port for generating high tumble and swirl” describes an engine with intake valves whose intake opening can be angled to affect the air entering the combustion chamber.

The patent works for a direct injection engine and will improve just about every aspect of its performance, including efficiency and output. And all thanks to a little vortex.

Engineers have long understood that making the air going into the combustion chamber swirl helps performance. That’s because, like swirling the sugar in your coffee, it helps the air/fuel mixture combine. That leads to better combustion, which means that more of the charge is burned, which leads to fewer emissions and more power—because you’re getting closer to using everything that’s going into the combustion chamber.

Attempts at swirling the air going into the chamber have been going on for years. Honda and GM have been doing it for a long time with the shape of their intake ports—which is good, but limited—and diesels have been doing it for years with swirl chambers—which adds complexity, weight, manufacturing costs, and has fuel economy downsides.

Ford’s system—or, at least, the system it’s proposing here—would solve a bunch of those issues by (effectively) attaching the intake disc—the bit that closes off the port—to the intake push rod on a hinge. So the disc can flap asymmetrically instead of just going straight down.

Then, by putting an obstruction on one side of the disc Ford will be able to angle the disc as it’s pushed down, and force the air going into the chamber to tumble in, creating a vortex, making the fuel burn better, making more power, and making everyone (including environmentalists) happier.

But Ford’s engineers have been smart. They haven’t just created an angled disc, they’ve allowed for the angle to vary based on need. So, when you start your car in the morning, the angle could be decreased to act a bit like a choke.

To do that, you put the “tumble guide” (the little bit that sticks out to angle the disc) on actuators that could extend or retract, increasing the angle of the opening. The patent even allows for two or more tumble guides to direct the air going into the combustion chamber.

So when the engine is cold, a tumble guide on one side of the chamber could direct air in such a way that the vaporized fuel ends up closer to the spark plug. Under heavy load, an actuator on the other side of the chamber could be direct air to the injector side so that it picks up the fuel immediately for better air-fuel mixing.

The advantage of the system is that it creates a powerful vortex without resorting to flap valves, vanes, or other systems that can pick up soot and mess with the air flow. That said, the tumble guide and the valve disc have to touch each other in this setup, so they’d better be made out of some pretty durable metal. Further, since the valve is going farther into the combustion chamber, timing will have to be precise. Not that it isn’t already.

Intriguingly, Ford mentions that this system could be used with actuator opened valves in its patent (as well as cam driven valves), but that could just be Ford hedging its bets in case it decides to investigate the use of free valves.

top down view

Just what engine this technology will be applied to remains to be seen. There was a mention of turbochargers, but the language in the patent is deliberately open-ended, presumably because if it works, it could potentially work on anything since better power an economy are always welcome.

[Honda CVCC photo by 韋駄天狗 (Self-photographed) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

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