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Archives for August 2012

ECU Tuning

Chip tuning refers to changing or modifying an erasable programmable read only memory (EEPROM) chip in an automobile’s or other vehicle’s electronic control unit (ECU) to achieve better performance, whether it be an increase in power, cleaner emissions, or better fuel efficiency.

Normally the engine manufacturer  creates an ECU map or “tune file” that is more conservative in order to ensure the longevity and reliability of the power-plant. A conservative electronic control unit map then allows for individual engine variations as well as infrequent servicing and poor-quality fuel.

The process of modifying the ECU or ECU remapping allows for these variables to be altered to allow for conditions and applications. For a more efficient fuel cycle the Air / Fuel Ratio (AFR) is modified thus changing the power curve. Any changes are a compromise hence an increase in power would usually yield a higher fuel burn.

All modern vehicles are equipped with an OBD port (On Board Diagnostics) that allows the manufacturer or tuner to access the ECU. Access to the OBD port then provides a log of the settings and telemetry as well as an option to modify various settings. Amongst these settings are speed limiters, Air Fuel Ratio, security codes, RPM limiters etc…

The ability to modify these settings is dictated by the type of ECU and the format of the ECU tune file. Most modern ECU’s are manufactured by companies such as DENSO and Mitsubishi.

An ECU remap usually involves a read process of the existing tune file then a write process back to the ECU. This is commonly known as an ECU Reflash.

The write process must incorporate the unique digital signature of the ECU in order for the ECU to continue operating. Hence a write file is usually an appended “read” tune file.

The ECU modification industry had until recently focused on performance chip tuning whereby the EEPROM was physically replaced with a unit that had been programmed for a particular application. The disadvantages being that the process required the physical removal of the ECU and subsequently any cutting and or soldering required to affix the modified chip.

The ability to read and write to the ECU eliminates this logistical process. Furthermore the overall read and write process can be completed in less than 10 minutes for most vehicles.

The largest markets for ECU tuning has been the motorcycle, turbo diesel and passenger vehicle sectors. The motorcycle sector in particular has adopted ECU reflashing as the power gains are immediate and quite significant. Additionally, the ability to modify the ECU allows detuned motorcycles such as LAMS approved bikes to be derestricted.

Additional information from the pages of Wikipedia;

Working of ECU

Control of Air/Fuel ratio

For an engine with fuel injection, an engine control unit (ECU) will determine the quantity of fuel to inject based on a number of parameters. If the Throttle position sensor is showing the throttle pedal is pressed further down, the Mass flow sensor will measure the amount of additional air being sucked into the engine and the ECU will inject fixed quantity of fuel into the engine ( most of the engine fuel inlet quantity is fixed). If the Engine coolant temperature sensor is showing the engine has not warmed up yet, more fuel will be injected (causing the engine to run slightly ‘rich’ until the engine warms up). Mixture control on computer controlled carburetors works similarly but with a mixture control solenoid or stepper motor incorporated in the float bowl of the carburetor.

Control of ignition timing

A spark ignition engine requires a spark to initiate combustion in the combustion chamber. An ECU can adjust the exact timing of the spark (called ignition timing) to provide better power and economy. If the ECU detects knock, a condition which is potentially destructive to engines, and “judges” it to be the result of the ignition timing being too early in the compression stroke, it will delay (retard) the timing of the spark to prevent this. Since knock tends to occur more easily at lower rpm, the ECU may send a signal for the automatic transmission to downshift as a first attempt to alleviate knock.

Control of idle speed

Most engine systems have idle speed control built into the ECU. The engine RPM is monitored by the crankshaft position sensor which plays a primary role in the engine timing functions for fuel injection, spark events, and valve timing. Idle speed is controlled by a programmable throttle stop or an idle air bypass control stepper motor. Early carburetor-based systems used a programmable throttle stop using a bidirectional DC motor. Early TBI systems used an idle air control stepper motor. Effective idle speed control must anticipate the engine load at idle. Changes in this idle load may come from HVAC systems, power steering systems, power brake systems, and electrical charging and supply systems. Engine temperature and transmission status, and lift and duration of camshaft also may change the engine load and/or the idle speed value desired.

A full authority throttle control system may be used to control idle speed, provide cruise control functions and top speed limitation.

Control of variable valve timing

Some engines have Variable Valve Timing. In such an engine, the ECU controls the time in the engine cycle at which the valves open. The valves are usually opened sooner at higher speed than at lower speed. This can optimize the flow of air into the cylinder, increasing power and economy.

Electronic valve control

Experimental engines have been made and tested that have no camshaft, but have full electronic control of the intake and exhaust valve opening, valve closing and area of the valve opening.Such engines can be started and run without a starter motor for certain multi-cylinder engines equipped with precision timed electronic ignition and fuel injection. Such a static-start engine would provide the efficiency and pollution-reduction improvements of a mild hybrid-electric drive, but without the expense and complexity of an oversized starter motor.

The first production engine of this type was invented ( in 2002) and introduced (in 2009) by Italian automaker Fiat in the Alfa Romeo MiTo. Their Multiair engines use electronic valve control which drastically improve torque and horsepower, while reducing fuel consumption as much as 15%. Basically, the valves are opened by hydraulic pumps, which are operated by the ECU. The valves can open several times per intake stroke, based on engine load. The ECU then decides how much fuel should be injected to optimize combustion.

For instance, when driving at a steady speed, the valve will open and a bit of fuel will be injected, the valve then closes. But, when you suddenly stamp on the throttle, the valve will open again in that same intake stroke and much more fuel will be injected so that you start to accelerate immediately. The ECU then calculates engine load at that exact RPM and decides how to open the valve: early, or late, wide open, or just half open. The optimal opening and timing are always reached and combustion is as precise as possible. This, of course, is impossible with a normal camshaft, which opens the valve for the whole intake period, and always to full lift.

And not to be overlooked, the elimination of cams, lifters, rockers, and timing set not only reduces weight and bulk, but also friction. A significant portion of the power that an engine actually produces is used up just driving the valve train, compressing all those valve springs thousands of times a minute.

Once more fully developed, electronic valve operation will yield even more benefits. Cylinder deactivation, for instance, could be made much more fuel efficient if the intake valve could be opened on every downstroke and the exhaust valve opened on every upstroke of the deactivated cylinder or “dead hole”. Another even more significant advancement will be the elimination of the convention throttle. When a car is run at part throttle, this interruption in the airflow causes excess vacuum, which causes the engine to use up valuable energy acting as a vacuum pump. BMW attempted to get around this on their V-10 powered M5, which had individual throttle butterflies for each cylinder, placed just before the intake valves. With electronic valve operation, it will be possible to control engine speed by regulating valve lift. At part throttle, when less air and gas are needed, the valve lift would not be as great. Full throttle is achieved when the gas pedal is depressed, sending an electronic signal to the ECU, which in turn regulates the lift of each valve event, and opens it all the way up.