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The Ups And Downs Of Valves
We talked to a number of valve manufacturers and industry insiders to see what's new and what's hot.
By John Carollo
It's always good to take a fresh look at some of the many engine components we work with. Rather than being lulled into complacency, the idea is to see what's new, what trends are in play and to get a current reading from others on the inside. In other words, it's good to keep it fresh.
In this case, we talked to a number of valve manufacturers and industry insiders to see what's new and what's hot. And a number of similarities came up. One of those common threads is that when the economy is sluggish or just outright bad, rebuilders and those doing remanufacturing are busy. Another is the continuing trend for diesels to be strong in the market place.
Valves have evolved a long way since early engine designs, and experts say the trend is continuing toward smaller and lighter valves.
Lee Tagliamonti of SI Valves is a man of few words. But in those words, we get a capsule version of this industry that seems to be shared by the other manufacturers.
"This market is extremely competitive," says Tagliamonti. "Innovation is the key.
Multi-valve cylinder heads are the future and we are looking at continued improvement in materials and coatings which will be critical to capture market share."
As for what he believes that future holds, Tagliamonti says, "We are looking at ceramic coatings and hollow stem valves at competitive prices as part of our plan to accommodate current trends. We are also going into large scale production of chrome moly and titanium retainers, along with valve locks, spring seats and cups. We believe this growing market will be an important area of growth."
Manley makes racing and performance parts exclusively, for a variety of performance levels. One example is their range of valves, covering entry-level to severe-duty, which Michael Tokarchik says: "is the best valve we offer to the masses. Extremeloy is the valve program that complements severe -duty valves. They are nickel-based alloys and depending on application, utilize three different alloys."
When asked about changes, Tokarchik says, "One of the things we've watched over the past few years is the new generation of domestic engines including the GM LS, the Ford modular and new Hemis. These are emerging markets for us. These are now finding their way into a lot of different platforms and we are seeing the greatest amount of activity with them. We have valves for all the LS engines. We have the Ford modular for two-, three- and four-valve units."
But he cites activity in the sport compact market coming from a different direction. "We see it on the internet such as chat rooms and message boards, Says Tokarchik. "It's interesting how the proliferation of info can be exposed. It's the demographics, too."
To offer the most data to this information-hungry audience, Manley created a separate sport compact website and works hard to be on search engines with more specific info than the usual web pages. Tokarchik explains that speed isn't only important under the hood. "Those customers want to find it and potentially order it and get it right way. The days of 'special order this' and 'wait around for that' is not the way consumers want to do it now. Also, you have to build a brand with this audience."
In addition to a wide variety of other engine components, Elgin Industries makes both OEM and racing valves. Racing accounts for about 25 percent of their product line and is geared toward more widespread levels of racers rather than the smaller market, higher levels of motorsports. Rick Simko says, "As far as materials are concerned, people at the extreme levels of racing seem to be gravitating to titanium - our market is the Saturday night racer and we don't get into titanium. We offer 21-4N stainless steel, swirl polished valves, a good performance valve at cost effective price. They're selling great, which is a real challenge, because everybody is trying to offer a performance valve at competitive pricing."
The rest of Elgin's valve business comes as OEM replacement parts and Simko says a trend is starting to appear. For whatever the reason, "OEM customers seem to be doing a lot of 'bandaid' types of repairs. Instead of replacing all the valves on a V8 they may do only two. It is the same type of thought pattern behind it as changing out one bad tire on a car instead of all four. We see that as a mistake for both the engine builder and the customer."
What's moving off the shelves at Elgin these days? Simko says, "The old muscle car engines are still in high demand." On the subject of new stuff, he acknowledges, "The OEM parts of today are lasting longer, 100,000 miles instead of just a few years ago when 50,000-60,000 miles was a long time."
CV Products is another racing-only firm serving F1 to the local racer and Sean Honan reports that racing continues to impact development. CV Products distributes Xceldyne brand valves, and Honan says "Surface engineering of the valve continues to be a hot issue, especially with the fuel changes in NASCAR. This engineering is a science that determines the actual surface finish required on the substrate along with the proper selection of thin film coatings applied to these surfaces. Currently we offer a multitude of different coating options determined by our customers needs."
He says, "Material research is constantly being conducted to meet the demands of the race engine builder for increased fatigue resistance and strength properties and reduction in mass if possible. This research has become so demanding that Xceldyne recently purchased a Material Testing System (MTS) fatigue and tensile tester, to conduct a wide array of tests at elevated temperatures, simulating real world operating conditions."
As for what's new with regard to product design, Honan says, "Hollow stem valves continue to be more common place with high-end engine builders. These have the benefits of mass reduction and column strength compared to a smaller diameter stem option. Xceldyne employs specialized machining, such as custom-built CNC control gun drilling machines and other proprietary I.D. finishing techniques in order to control surface finish and concentricity of the hole. Xceldyne continues to refine its design and manufacturing process of hollow stem intake valves, and has also seen a significant increase in the use of sodium-filled hollow stem exhaust valves."
How is the racing market changing? "We are finding that as engine builders and race teams push higher rpms, they continue to look for the lightest weight, most reliable valvetrain components. Many grassroots racers might like to run lighter weight combinations but it all depends on the rules set by their sanctioning body whether they are able to use titanium components."
SB International cuts a wide swath in the market by offering general automotive, heavy-duty diesel, agricultural and marine valves, as well as a performance line aimed more at the local Saturday night racer.
The majority of SBI's sales are for popular auto, truck, import, and heavy-duty diesels. "When it comes to units sold," says SB's Brian Bender, "it's the 60-series Detroit Diesel and the second position is the Chevy 350 and then the 71-series Detroit four valve. Other popular engine configurations are the 16-valve 2.4L and 3.0L 24-valve single overhead cam Chryslers."
SB's newest effort is aimed at the big diesels, but Bender says it's a tough proposition. "If I compare the diesel market to the automotive market, I see the demand for valves declining." He cites reclaiming or remanufacturing, recycling junkyard parts and the fact that engines are just lasting longer. "We're starting to release valves for the Cummins ISX and ISM. Heavy-duty diesel, due to regulations, more people are rebuilding older engines. Newer engines have a high price tag."
Bender says he sees two distinct types of customers. "One will buy for quality and the other buys for price. Or, in some cases, they reclaim parts."
Looking forward, Bender says, "It's still too early to tell about hybrids." But, he points out, "Flex fuel engines use 238N (ultra high stainless steel) and inconel valves. And there are some new materials being used in valve seat inserts. The old material used to be cobalt-based alloys, but due to the price of cobalt, some companies have designed proprietary iron-based alloys to replace it in the alloy."
Schumann's Dynamic Performance (SDP) does 90 percent of its work in racing parts with oil pumps, pushrods and valve train pieces making up their top three sellers. SDP offers 23 degree SBC high performance valves in 5000, 7000 and 9000 Series models to professional engine builders. The number of the 5000 and 7000 series corresponds with the amount of valve spring pressure rated (i.e., 7000 Series is for 700 lbs. of valve spring pressure). Verne Schumann says its 5000 Series valves are made with conventional Hard Chrome straight stems with a micro finish that ensures long lasting valve guides. They can be used on hydraulic or flat tappet solid lifter racing camshafts up to 7,000 rpm. These valves are forged non magnetic 21-4N one piece construction with optimum grain flow patterns throughout the valve. "They are compatible with the 1,400° F exhaust valve temperatures of today's racing engines," says Schumann.
By comparison, the Schumann 7000 Series is engineered for 700 lbs.-plus roller cam valve springs. The Extra Duty Series exotic alloy valves are compatible with 1,600° F ultra high temperatures that can be experienced in today's extreme output performance engines. The one- piece forging has absolute grain flow throughout hard chrome stems with micron finish and have extreme undercut profile for ultra high air flow.
Schumann explains that "taper stem technology" helps provide more consistent in-service operation. "Most valves are made with a straight stem," he explains. "They can get tight at the bottom of the guide as they expand from the heat. Scuffing on the bottom more than the top of the valve equals an inconsistent clearance. Tapered exhaust stem expansion is .0008? to .001?. And tapered intake stem expansion is .0002? to .0003?. There can be a 300° F temperature difference at the guide, which then cools down as you approach the keepers. So as the valves warm up, heat-compensated guide-to-valve stem clearance means they are accurate."
Schumann's 9000 Series high nickel content stainless steel (1,800° F racing temp.) valve is precision forged for optimum grain structure and solution heat treated for total penetration. "The valve stems are Melonite processed at 1,000 Vickers hardness and offer up to 10 times oil retention over hard chrome finish. Taper stem technology is used here, too. Open radical camshaft lobe designs and open limit valve spring pressures are acceptable for the 9000 Series."
Tony Avila of Precision Engine Parts says his company's product catalog has grown to include over 10,000 part numbers, including racing and OEM parts, as well as a new line of Rheanflo valves. "These valves came out last year and use a unique knurled pattern for contact with valve guides. Currently they're only available for small- and big-block Chevys, but they're very popular," says Avila. "It's fair to say they are flying out the door - we're shipping them as fast as we can make them."
Avila explains the valve's design has been field-proven - literally. "The design came from Israeli tanks that are air cooled. I know the grooved guides have been around but customers either love it or hate it."
Precision Engine Parts also offers a new titanium valve design that came from Germany. Used successfully in Viper series racing, this valve design is comprised of 10-11 percent aluminum and are available for small- and big-block Chevys.
Looking down the road for trends, Avila says, "I see every one using 8mm guides and valves. I think the whole industry will change from 11/16? before too long. This will also yield lighter retainers and valve springs."
Multi-valve heads are among PEP's customer's requests this year. "I'm being asked more for the Ford 4.6L valves, especially the three- and four-valve than the two valve configurations. I attribute it to the drag racing guys. They are racing new stuff."
Other customers want continued innovation, Avila says. "Customers are asking for a sport compact version of Rheanflo valves. The turbo crowd is asking for hardened cast guides rather than the manganese bronze guides. I'm not sure if their EGTs (exhaust gas temperatures) are getting too high, protruding the bronze guide into the runner. The bronze guide starts to shrink there. They are having better luck with hardened cast guides."
Ian Levitt of Qualcast LLC says demand for "more from less" translates into valve design. "What we're seeing in new engines is that valves are getting smaller and lighter. Customers are looking for more efficiency and better gas mileage while maintaining their performance output." He sees another trend that seems to have come along with the smaller sizes. "Tolerances certainly continue to be getting tighter," he says. "OEMs are looking for better fuel mileage and longevity. Over the past 10-20 years, they've continually improved on the OE side."
One trend Levitt sees in the aftermarket is more interest in the 4.8L and 5.3L Chevy engines. "Even though it's a current engine, we're seeing demand for products for them."
Levitt also says his perception is that there continues to be steady, if not dramatic, demand for complete cylinder heads and components. "This, I think, bodes well for the medium term future. With a steady increase over the past ten years, fuel efficiency and power have come primarily from the cylinder head and that trend is still continuing."
Bob Chavez, of Topline Auto says, "Multi-valve cylinders keep increasing to get more fuel and air into the cylinders. And most likely with multi-valve cylinder heads, there is some kind of variable valve timing system to go with it, either to open up one or two intake valves of a 4-valve cylinder head at a given oil pressure/rpm range or to rotate the whole camshaft to advance the valves openings. VW has been producing 20-valve DOHC 4-cylinder and a 30-valve DOHC V6 for awhile. At the same time, we've seen valve stem diameters go from 8mm to 5.5mm for imports."
That directly relates to the market, and has positive ramifications for rebuilders, Chavez says. "Thanks to the smaller stem diameter valves and multi-valve set ups, we believe that more customers prefer to buy a rebuilt cylinder head to save time and money of doing the work themselves. The repair shops get the vehicle out faster and on with the next repair."
He believes commonality and synergy will continue to be important for new products. "More than ever, there is a crossover and integration of engine parts between manufacturers. Different makes and different engine types are sharing many of the same parts to cut costs and increase profits."
And this synergy will be important with valves and their relationship to other engine components as well, Chavez says, "Interacting will be key. In today's engines, all of the parts go hand-in-hand, which ultimately will affect the valve. Failures of the timing belt or chain tensioner or improper oil change intervals that gum up the hydraulic lifters are just two examples. Most of the engines today have an MLS head gasket that does not give you much room for the valve to clear the pistons. However, the procedures for rebuilding these engines are virtually the same - cutting seats, honing, etc. - only on a smaller scale."
Chavez says, overall, there is a higher level of complexity for import engines. "Variable valve timing is pretty much the norm for import car manufacturers nowadays," says Chavez. "Those technologies vary greatly, from the simple Toyota 22R basic 8-valve with the rocker arm assembly above the valves (which, by the way, is still a strong seller) to the complex Honda K24A4 16-valve DOHC cylinder with moveable camshaft timing and disengaging rocker arms. In this case the intake and exhaust valves can be open at different lobe lifts. This cylinder head is a 2 piece design with the valves in the lower portion and the camshafts, rocker arm shafts and rocker arms in the upper portion." In both of these cases, it means challenges to the rebuilders to understand and follow proper assembly procedures.
Cal Valves, a family business located in Michigan, has been around since 1987. The core of its work is remanufacturing OEM engine valves primarily for the diesel market. President Fred Calouette says that even though the current economy may seem scary, it's ripe for remanufacturing.
"For us, business is good across the board," says Calouette. "With the rising cost of energy and raw materials, the sky is the limit for remanufacturing. Things that were not economically feasible in the past, even two years ago, have become commonplace today. Items on the table are things that have never been remanufactured before. The future looks good particularly because of the high costs."
Does the diesel market have room for the little guys? Calouette admits it can be a challenge. "OEM diesel is big on new products and they do their own remanufacturing. The diesel market is the big four and they have to use OEM parts. Local remanufacturing shops are struggling because they don't have the same resources."
Cal Valves does about 30 percent of its work in automotive, 15 percent in locomotive with the remainder being dedicated to diesel. New diesel valves cost significantly more than gas and that opens it up for remanufacturing. Cal Valves does the arduous procedure of remanufacturing valves.
"We're very labor intensive," Calouette acknowledges. "The procedure involves first cleaning the valves, running them through an ultrasonic procedure, then an Eddy current test, chrome plating them, checking the hardness, and regrinding to size before they are then ready to assemble."
For information about contacting any of these companies, access the interactive Engine Builders Buyers Guide.