On diesel engines, it features a high-pressure (over 1,000 bar or 100 MPa or 15,000 psi) fuel rail feeding individual solenoid valves, as opposed to low-pressure fuel pump feeding unit injectors (or pump nozzles). Third-generation common rail diesels now feature piezoelectric injectors for increased precision, with fuel pressures up to 3,000 bar (300 MPa; 44,000 psi).
The common rail system prototype was developed in the late 1960s by Robert Huber of Switzerland and the technology further developed by Dr. Marco Ganser at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, later of Ganser-Hydromag AG (est.1995) in Oberägeri.
The first successful usage in a production vehicle began in Japan by the mid-1990s. Dr. Shohei Itoh and Masahiko Miyaki of the Denso Corporation, a Japanese automotive parts manufacturer, developed the common rail fuel system for heavy duty vehicles and turned it into practical use on their ECD-U2 common-rail system mounted on the Hino Rising Ranger truck and sold for general use in 1995. Denso claims the first commercial high pressure common rail system in 1995.
Modern common rail systems, whilst working on the same principle, are governed by an engine control unit (ECU) which opens each injector electronically rather than mechanically. This was extensively prototyped in the 1990s with collaboration between Magneti Marelli, Centro Ricerche Fiat and Elasis. After research and development by the Fiat Group, the design was acquired by the German company Robert Bosch GmbH for completion of development and refinement for mass-production. In hindsight, the sale appeared to be a tactical error for Fiat, as the new technology proved to be highly profitable. The company had little choice but to sell, however, as it was in a poor financial state at the time and lacked the resources to complete development on its own. In 1997 they extended its use for passenger cars. The first passenger car that used the common rail system was the 1997 model Alfa Romeo 156 2.4 JTD, and later on that same year Mercedes-Benz C 220 CDI.
Common rail engines have been used in marine and locomotive applications for some time. The Cooper-Bessemer GN-8 (circa 1942) is an example of a hydraulically operated common rail diesel engine, also known as a modified common rail.
Vickers used common rail systems in submarine engines circa 1916. Doxford Engines Ltd. (opposed-piston heavy marine engines) used a common rail system (from 1921 to 1980) whereby a multi-cylinder reciprocating fuel pump generated a pressure of approximately 600 bars (60 MPa; 8,700 psi), with the fuel being stored in accumulator bottles. Pressure control was achieved by means of an adjustable pump discharge stroke and a "spill valve". Camshaft-operated mechanical timing valves were used to supply the spring-loaded Brice/CAV/Lucas injectors, which injected through the side of the cylinder into the chamber formed between the pistons. Early engines had a pair of timing cams, one for ahead running and one for astern. Later engines had two injectors per cylinder, and the final series of constant-pressure turbocharged engines were fitted with four injectors per cylinder. This system was used for the injection of both diesel oil and heavy fuel oil (600cSt heated to a temperature of approximately 130 °C).
The common rail system is suitable for all types of road cars with diesel engines, ranging from city cars (such as the Fiat Panda) to executive cars (such as the Audi A6). The main suppliers of modern common rail systems are Robert Bosch GmbH, Delphi, Denso, and Siemens VDO (now owned by Continental AG).
The automotive manufacturers refer to their common rail engines by their own brand names:
- Ashok Leyland: CRS (used in U Truck and E4 Busses)
- BharatBenz: 4d34i (used in 914R and 1214R)
- BMW: D (also used in the Land Rover Freelander as TD4)
- Chevrolet: VCDi (licensed from VM Motori)
- Cummins and Scania: XPI (developed under joint venture)
- Cummins: CCR (Cummins pump with Bosch injectors)
- Daimler: CDI (and on Chrysler's Jeep vehicles simply as CRD)
- Fiat Group (Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia): JTD (also branded as MultiJet, JTDm, and by supplied manufacturers as CDTi, TiD, TTiD, DDiS and Quadra-Jet)
- Ford Motor Company: TDCi (Duratorq and Powerstroke)
- Honda: i-CTDi and i-DTEC
- Hyundai and Kia: CRDi
- IKCO: EFD
- Isuzu: iTEQ
- Jeep: CRD
- Komatsu: Tier3, Tier4, 4D95 and higher HPCR-series
- Mahindra: CRDe, DiCR, m2DiCR
- Mazda: MZR-CD and Skyactiv-D (are manufactured by the Ford and PSA Peugeot Citroen joint venture) and earlier DiTD
- Mitsubishi: DI-D (mainly on the recently developed 4N1 engine family)
- Nissan: dCi (Infiniti uses dCi engines, but not branded as dCi)
- Opel: CDTI
- Proton: SCDi
- PSA Peugeot Citroën: HDI or HDi (developed under joint venture with Ford) – See PSA HDi engine
- Renault: dCi (joint venture with Nissan)
- SsangYong: XDi (most of these engines are manufactured by Daimler AG)
- Subaru: TD or D (as of Jan 2008)
- Tata: DICOR and CR4
- Toyota: D-4D and D-Cat
- Volkswagen Group (Volkswagen, Audi, Seat and Skoda): TDI (more recent models use common rail, as opposed to the earlier unit injector engines)
- Volvo: D and D5 engines (some are manufactured by Ford and PSA Peugeot Citroen), Volvo Penta D-series engines
Solenoid or piezoelectric valves make possible fine electronic control over the fuel injection time and quantity, and the higher pressure that the common rail technology makes available provides better fuel atomisation. To lower engine noise, the engine's electronic control unit can inject a small amount of diesel just before the main injection event ("pilot" injection), thus reducing its explosiveness and vibration, as well as optimising injection timing and quantity for variations in fuel quality, cold starting and so on. Some advanced common rail fuel systems perform as many as five injections per stroke.
Common rail engines require a very short (< 10 seconds) to no heating-up time, depending on ambient temperature, and produce lower engine noise and emissions than older systems.
Diesel engines have historically used various forms of fuel injection. Two common types include the unit injection system and the distributor/inline pump systems (See diesel engine and unit injector for more information). While these older systems provided accurate fuel quantity and injection timing control, they were limited by several factors:
- They were cam driven, and injection pressure was proportional to engine speed. This typically meant that the highest injection pressure could only be achieved at the highest engine speed and the maximum achievable injection pressure decreased as engine speed decreased. This relationship is true with all pumps, even those used on common rail systems. With unit or distributor systems, the injection pressure is tied to the instantaneous pressure of a single pumping event with no accumulator, and thus the relationship is more prominent and troublesome.
- They were limited in the number and timing of injection events that could be commanded during a single combustion event. While multiple injection events are possible with these older systems, it is much more difficult and costly to achieve.
- For the typical distributor/inline system, the start of injection occurred at a pre-determined pressure (often referred to as: pop pressure) and ended at a pre-determined pressure. This characteristic resulted from "dummy" injectors in the cylinder head which opened and closed at pressures determined by the spring preload applied to the plunger in the injector. Once the pressure in the injector reached a pre-determined level, the plunger would lift and injection would start.
In common rail systems, a high-pressure pump stores a reservoir of fuel at high pressure — up to and above 2,000 bars (200 MPa; 29,000 psi). The term "common rail" refers to the fact that all of the fuel injectors are supplied by a common fuel rail which is nothing more than a pressure accumulator where the fuel is stored at high pressure. This accumulator supplies multiple fuel injectors with high-pressure fuel. This simplifies the purpose of the high-pressure pump in that it only needs to maintain a commanded pressure at a target (either mechanically or electronically controlled). The fuel injectors are typically ECU-controlled. When the fuel injectors are electrically activated, a hydraulic valve (consisting of a nozzle and plunger) is mechanically or hydraulically opened and fuel is sprayed into the cylinders at the desired pressure. Since the fuel pressure energy is stored remotely and the injectors are electrically actuated, the injection pressure at the start and end of injection is very near the pressure in the accumulator (rail), thus producing a square injection rate. If the accumulator, pump and plumbing are sized properly, the injection pressure and rate will be the same for each of the multiple injection events.
- Gasoline Direct Injection
- Unit Injector
- Unit pump
- Turbocharged Direct Injection
- Fuel filter
- Water sensor
- Air mass flow sensor
- "Welcome to a technical overview of Common Rail Diesel Fuel Systems". Tony Kitchen (AK Training). Retrieved 2013-05-28.
- "240 Landmarks of Japanese Automotive Technology - Common rail ECD-U2". Jsae.or.jp. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
- "Diesel Fuel Injection". DENSO Global. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
- "Fiat Rebirth of a carmaker". economist.com. 2008-04-24. Retrieved 2008-05-01.
- "New Powertrain Technologies Conference". autonews.com. Retrieved 2008-04-08.
- "Doxford Engine Reference".
- (multistroke injection) See BMW 2009 Brochure for 3 series
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