Real-time oil quality monitoring set to enter automotive industry

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Daimler researchers have developed a special oil monitoring sensor

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March 13, 2008 The theory is simple: once your engine oil gets too dirty, change it. In practice though, striking a balance between changing the oil too early (wasting money and maintenance time) and changing it too late (potentially damaging the engine) can be difficult. This is a particularly important consideration in road transport and fleet management situations. A bit like Goldilocks' porridge, it has to be "just right". The solution is on the way with systems that provide real-time analysis of oil quality that can be monitored from inside the vehicle progressing on several fronts. Daimler Chrysler is developing an oil quality monitoring system for application in commercial vehicles that it says could extended maintenance intervals by as much as 25 percent and Flowtronics has announced that its fluid quality sensors will be used for the DiMora Motorcar Volcano V16 engine, the 1200hp powerplant driving the $2 million Natalia SLS 2 sport luxury sedan.

Daimler researchers have developed a special sensor integrated into the oil circuit that provides readings based on several parameters. The first is the permittivity, or the ability of the oil to transmit an applied electric field. If the engine oil is contaminated by impurities, it polarizes to a greater extent and its permittivity increases. The second is viscosity, a further indicator of the remaining lubricative quality which can detect any diesel fuel that may have found its way into the oil. The system is designed to measure this while the vehicle is in motion by observing the oil's side-to-side motion in the sump.

Daimler says that by using the precise, single-sensor monitoring system instead of pre-determined time or kilometers traveled figure that doesn't take into account all of the variables, oil change intervals could be extended by 25 percent

The Flowtonics system was introduced in mid-2007 for fleet truck operations and its use by Di Mora will be a first for a production automobile. Developed partially with funding from the US Navy, the system also uses a multi-pronged approach. The Flowtonics FS-3 sensor uses a patented technique that measures changes in electrochemical properties of the oil caused by contamination and oil breakdown. The system can also distinguish between different contaminants such as coolant, water, fuel or soot, providing an in-depth analysis that can be integrated into the vehicle architecture (a warning light for example) or conveyed to the driver or fleet manager back in the office via an on-board computer in real-time.

"The Volcano V16 engine puts out 1200 horsepower. We need to be absolutely certain that the engine oil is maximizing its properties 100 percent of the time," said DiMora Motorcar Founder and CEO Alfred DiMora. "The Flowtonics system gives the Natalia driver that confidence. It also can detect contaminants in the oil, providing an early warning system of possible future problems. This is a real innovation in preventive maintenance."

Apart from its first foray into the automotive industry, Flowtonics sensors are being developed for numerous applications including industrial heavy equipment, marine, agricultural equipment, and the oil industry.

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