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Dynos in the Classroom

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At many colleges and universities, study time is quiet time. Silent students engrossed in books and notes crowd cubicles and corridors in an attempt to gain whatever advantage they can for the next exam.

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At the University of Northwestern Ohio (UNO), the best learning experiences are often accompanied by the sweet sound of horsepower. As engines roar, students receive valuable information that will certainly help them on their exams, but will even more easily translate into employment experience.


Welcome to the educational world of dynos. At the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima, OH, instructors in the high performance and diesel technology programs use dynamometers for both teaching and training, with the simple goal of producing graduates who possess real world skills.

For instructors Randy Lucius and Bob Marshal, the philosophy behind dyno testing is just about as important as the practice. For these educators, “dyno testing” is really “dyno teaching,” and it’s an educational process that pays dividends for both teacher and student.

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“We use dynos for two things,” explains Randy Lucius, instructor in the school’s high performance program. “First, of course, we use them to test modifications and setup procedures. When a student sets up a fuel system or an ignition system on an engine and tries to tune it for maximum power, we’ll use the dyno to verify that he or she is headed in the right direction.

“But probably a bigger part of our teaching simply involves getting the students used to using engine and chassis dynos,” Lucius continues. “If they get into a job in the high performance industry, they’ll need to know how to use a dyno. Because with increasingly more affordable systems, it seems like even the smallest shops have dynos these days.”

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For Bob Marshal, instructor in the school’s diesel program, the use of the school’s dynamometers give students a jump on the competition when they leave school. “When they come out of school, they’ve got a great deal of knowledge about the heavy-duty industry. Diesel is already high performance. With our dyno capabilities, we help them make sense of it all and be very adaptable.”

The University has made major investments into its dyno education program over the past 10 years, says Lucius. “When the high performance fuels program began 10 years ago, we started using dynamometers. At that time we had two engine dynos and access to a chassis dyno. We thought we were doing pretty well.”

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Reflecting on those days, Lucius laughs about how much the students – and the instructors – didn’t know For example, facility design was little more than an afterthought. “The original design of the dyno cells wasn’t perfect, unfortunately,” he says. “They had very little sound deadening in the walls and when we started up the fans to vent the room it would suck all the ceiling tiles down in the office manager’s office.”

In January, however, the school opened its new High Performance complex, covering 70,000 square feet in two buildings over 7.2 acres. The new facility includes four large, well-insulated specially designed dyno cells with two DTS engine dynos, as well as SuperFlow and DynoJet chassis dynos.

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Facility design was carefully managed because user comfort, accessibility and functionality were paramount.

“One of the best upgrades we have realized,” says Lucius, “is that instead of having two engine dynos running off of a single 500 gallon water tank we now have a 2,500-gallon tank. This allows us to better maintain the water temperature, a very important consideration when we’re running three high performance classes through the dyno cells every day.”

Lucius says the old setup automatically handicapped the last class of the day, to the detriment of performance. “It used to be that the water inlet temperature would get so hot that the dyno brake would eventually start turning the water into steam and not be able to hold a load anymore,” explains Lucius. “If you had the evening class and you knew the classes before you had been out in the shop, you went to class knowing you were in for a long night.”

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The bigger water tank and cooling system integrated into the new building has helped, Lucius says, as has the fact that there are simply more machines to take the strain.

“It’s nice for the students too, because I don’t have to push them out in order to give someone else a chance on the dyno. It gives more of them more time to work with the equipment.”

The school’s Diesel program is also going through an upgrade cycle, explains Marshal. The diesel school is currently in the process of moving into the space vacated by the high performance school when it transferred across campus to its new building. However, rather that simply taking what it has and moving into an old space, thereby inheriting the original design flaws, Marshal says building design is being upgraded into its new location as well.

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“We have had two diesel engine dynos,” says Marshal, “but one seized up and broke the nose off while we were running an engine on it. When we tore it apart, we found an extended crack down the length of the dyno’s main shaft. As it started to warm up, the two metals grew at different rates, causing the bearing to seize and snap.”

The biggest engine students in the diesel program work on is a 15 liter, the size that goes in a class 8 truck. Marshal says the plan is to have two dynos in place that can easily handle that requirement.

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“While we’re moving, we’re rebuilding our current Taylor DX33 engine dyno. We’ll go through the whole thing, rechrome the shaft, put in new bearings. Then we’ll get a new Taylor DX 34 to replace our old dyno. It will be able to accommodate 2,900 ft.lbs. of torque at 1,000 hp,” says Marshal.

“We’ll have three dynos then,” Marshal says with anticipation. “We’ll have the two Taylors and a SuperFlow 3100, which can handle 750 hp at 2,400 ft.lbs. of torque. That one is actually portable – the inner part bolts to the flywheel housing. The dyno actually hangs off the back of the engine. It’s run with a gate valve and has a digital display with the key figures. We’ll actually be able to take any engine that is on an engine stand and hook up the dyno.”

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Getting Up To Speed

Every student participating in the high performance program will gain experience on one of Lucius’ dynos. Likewise, students in the agricultural, diesel or auto diesel programs will test using Marshal’s units. In both cases, the knowledge will come in the course of regular class and lab work.

“We bring them into the cells in groups of 4 or 5 at a time, go over the basic dyno theory and explain how to set them up,” says Lucius. “We’ll help them make a couple of runs so they know what they’re doing.

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“They have to use the dyno to check on what they’re doing in class,” Lucius continues. “For example, they’ll need to be able to change a fuel system and tune it. They’ll go through basic carburetor setup and then, using the dyno, tweak it for maximum power.”

On the diesel side of the school, Marshal says dyno instruction comes as part of the school’s Diesel Engine Electronic Controls class. “In that class, students learn to run all the different engine programs. With diesel engines, all the programs are run with laptops. We don’t really use scan tools, we use laptops,” Marshal explains.

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“It gives them a real good understanding of how various changes affect the engine,” says Marshal. “For example, we’ll do a bad valve adjustment on an engine, then run it on the dyno. Then we’ll show them how to properly do a valve adjustment and injector adjustment and they’ll see the difference in horsepower that is gained from doing the job properly, from one that’s worn and out of spec to one that’s in spec.

Teaching students to use the laptop computer programs for the different engine manufacturers is just one of the adjustments instructors must make these days, according to both UNO teachers.

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“I originally thought moving into our new facility was going to make it very easy to teach this class, because we have all sorts of great gadgets, we’ll be able to keep the kids busy and we’ll get a lot accomplished,” says Lucius. “Let’s face it: with the flowbenches, distributor machines, the injector tester, we’ve got a lot of tools to teach students – probably everything short of a Spintron,”

The reality, though accurate, is a bit more challenging, Lucius says.

“What I’m finding is that, because we have added all the equipment, it’s just more time I have to spend teaching them how to set it up, use it properly.”

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But it’s not just ignorance or inexperience instructors are challenged by. “One of the things we have to overcome, is the ‘knowledge’ that our students come in with,” Lucius continues. “These kids love to talk numbers, and they’ll bring their cars in to test them. They’ll have calculated out what the numbers ‘should be,’ but if they’re not, I have to try to explain to them what happened.”

Sometimes, Lucius says, calculations were made wrong – other times, it is a case of unrealistic expectations.

“I had to tell a student not to be discouraged when the dyno didn’t show horsepower numbers he expected,” Lucius says. “I said ‘Use it as a tuning aid, take it to the track and run it…see what your numbers look like there. Then come back and tell me if your engine is down in power.'”

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In most cases, students aren’t testing the highest performance engines, at least at first. “Basically, we’ll start them off with one of the ‘school mules,'” explains Lucius. “We have a number of engines here at the school that we can use for testing over and over. But because they take a beating, I encourage my students to bring in their own engines. Sometimes we have a waiting list of engines to run, other times, pickings are slim.”

It’s unlikely that Marshal’s students will have their own engines to test on the diesel dynos, but he says finding suitable candidates shouldn’t be a problem anymore.

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“We’ve had some dealerships approach us about doing their dyno testing. Our problem had always been a lack of space, but now that we’re moving into more spacious surroundings, we’ll have room to do it for them. Because that building has 14-ft. doors, we can get all trucks inside.”

To fight the slow periods, say Lucius and Marshal, local engine builders, machine shops and diesel dealers are invited to submit their engines for testing. Not only does this solve the problem of not having product to test, it gives students a glimpse at the opportunities that exist in the real world.

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The instructors acknowledge that running someone else’s engine on the school dynos is a real cost, but that the benefit they achieve from an educational standpoint is worth it.

“This way, when the students get out they have experience using the engine dyno, something not a lot of diesel technicians have,” says Marshal “There are several companies in the diesel field who hire our students to do nothing but run diesel dynos. Although the bigger engine manufacturers have their own dyno operations, most of the smaller ones hire that process out. It’s a real employment opportunity.”

Lucius concurs. “Obviously, we can never give our students all of the experience they’ll gain working in a shop – but with our resources we try to give them an advantage when they graduate.”

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