An engine dyno can be a valuable tool in many corners of a modern engine facility. As an investigative tool, it can help you find new solutions to old challenges. As a testing tool, it can help prove your hypotheses. As a creativity tool it can help push you in new directions. And as a sales tool it can help differentiate you in the eyes of customers.
The 2017 Race Engine Builder of the Year Matt Dickmeyer of Dickmeyer Automotive Engineering in South Whitley, IN, knows the value of attention to and appreciation for what an engine dyno can do for a business, and he suggests that his fellow professionals take a serious look at the selection, installation and operational aspects of dyno ownership.
“I’ve been building engines professionally since I was 15,” Dickmeyer says. “Back then, it was me and my dad. One of my dad’s favorite comments was, ‘Well, they always say…’ and I’d wonder, who are ‘they’ and what do they know? So I always wanted to experiment with what ‘they’ say and a lot of times I found out that ‘they’ were very wrong.”
Dickmeyer says he realized he had a tool that he could use to hone his craft and to see what works. “I didn’t build small block Chevys all day, I did everything and anything interesting. Our mantra was, ‘Try things.’ And once you find out what doesn’t work, there’s no point in pushing that any further, the trajectory is now to go towards what works. I think that’s what gets most other engine builders where they are, too.”
Dickmeyer says he sees greater interest from both consumers and professionals for accurate information and intimate understanding of dynamometer operation. “I think the consumer wants his engine dynoed now more than ever just because of the horsepower craze. They want to know what that number is,” he says. “And since I started developing my own dyno, I’ve gotten literally hundreds of phone calls from engine builders who are hungry to know more about using their dyno efficiently.”
Of course, many shops have a dyno, but Dickmeyer says many admit they don’t really use it much because they can be a pain to operate and they’re very low productivity. “It’s effort per dollar,” he says. “You think of what a dyno costs and the time that it takes to get an engine on it, get it running, hook up the instrumentation, actually start doing pulls, and you can have a day or more wrapped up in it.
“For a lot of guys, I think the dyno was their father’s or their grandfather’s. They may have taken over the shop and before you know it, it’s one of those pieces of equipment that just kind of starts to collect dust. You blow it off every now and then because the customer will come through and see your shop and you want to point out that you have a dyno, but you don’t really even use it.”
It’s this Catch 22 that set Dickmeyer on a path to develop his own dyno system that he hopes to begin marketing, although he admits that point could be quite a ways away. Realistically, he hopes to use his journey to inspire other engine builders to take a serious look at their own quest for information.
“For the customer, a well-managed dyno gives them the confidence that they got what they paid for. And it can give a serious level of professionalism to the engine builder – ‘I gave you exactly what I told you I was going to,’” Dickmeyer says. “It’s obvious that you are investing in your skill and in your craft and in your business.”
The elephant in the room, of course is, “What does it cost to buy?” Dickmeyer says that’s not really the right question. More accurately, it should be, “What does it cost to own?”
“A lot of times, the decision with a dyno is to buy what they can afford,” he says. “The problem with that is what you can afford is probably not what you need. I’ve told multiple people something that equipment people hate to hear: ‘Don’t pull the trigger right now, save for another year or another five years if that’s what you need to do. The most expensive route to take is to buy something you don’t need and then you either give up or you have to spend a lot more later on to buy what you do need.”
Consider not only the initial purchase price, but the cost of installation and the cost of operation.
Power is critical, of course. “If you don’t have three phase in your shop, you’re probably going to have to pay to have it put in,” Dickmeyer says. “I’ve seen some guys who have tried running a dyno without enough power – all they did was blow breakers. You end up spending a whole bunch of money on incorrect parts and then you have to do it all over again, so something that’s expensive costs twice as much because you had to do it twice.”
In addition, consider cost of operation. “A lot of guys want to know, ’Should I go with an eddy current or a water brake system?’” Dickmeyer says. “With an eddy current, you basically just have an electric motor that attempts counter rotation as a means of resistance. But again, that eddy current brake wears out, and can cost a lot of electricity to operate. Every time you’re putting a load on the engine, the meter in the back of your shop is spinning pretty fast. Then when you consider that your average dyno room has four to six or more large electric motors operating pumps and fans and so on, the electrical costs can be really substantial.”
Dickmeyer also points out that a water brake dyno is a little more complex to understand and operate because there are so many other pieces required to make it work – but the model he has designed uses water for resistance.
“Everyone has asked me the same question: how much water do you need to dyno an engine?” Dickmeyer says. “The answer is, there is no exact industry answer, which is somewhat odd, if you think about it. If every water brake is based on the same operating system, everybody should be triangulating on a pretty common number. The consensus is 10 gallons per minute per 100 horsepower, but what this number really represents is ‘too much is bound to be enough.’ I tried to dial it in to a more accurate number – it’s really more in the 6-5/8 gallon per minute per 100 horsepower range. This represents a huge savings, because the pump required to move 10 gallons per minute is much more expensive than if you only need 6-5/8 gallons per minute per 100 horsepower.”
Location, Location, Location
Where should your dyno be located and do you need a dedicated dyno cell? Dickmeyer says your cell’s design should depend on your needs.
“It can be critical for repetition,” he says. “If you’re operating a dyno to take in information and test theories and so on, it’s critical because if you don’t have a consistent atmosphere, each pull is going to be a percentage different. And then you’re wondering if it’s because your theory is flawed or if it’s because one day it was 90 degrees and 20 percent humidity and the next it’s 75 degrees and 90 percent humidity.”
To be totally frank, Dickmeyer says, a dyno room can be a power adder. “It’s essentially like putting on an oxygen mask with the perfect ratio of oxygen and nitrogen and so on over the carburetor and allowing the engine to inhale this perfect ratio of air,” he says. “But once you put that thing on the track and it’s 125 degrees outside air temperature, zero humidity, dust and debris, the engine compartment is 600 degrees, I can guarantee you that engine is going to be putting out significantly less power than it did in your dyno cell.”
Or consider an engine built for Pike’s Peak hill climbing. “Every foot it climbs, that engine loses a percentage of power because of the elevation,” he says. “You almost need a progressive nitrous system to dry spray nitrous in the engine just to maintain that air so you can have the same cylinder pressure.”
Dickmeyer suggests that the most important guideline for dyno room location is to work with what you have, trying to optimize for the goal of consistency. “I would say most of the guys that I’ve talked to don’t have the means to build a quarter-million dollar dyno cell, so the best thing to do is to work with what you have,” he says. “I set my own system up to be what I figured would be the average guy’s shop, the average room. I had one area that I could really dispose of for storage or for other things and turn it into a dedicated room. I just made the best of it.”
Through his own research and investigation, Dickmeyer has answered his own questions and, while he’ll be happy to serve as a supplier to engine builders, he hopes to serve as inspiration as well.
“I just wanted to build a dyno for myself because I experienced exactly what everyone else has – sometimes that piece of equipment, just can’t do what you bought it for or it’s just such a pain to operate that you find yourself not using it,” Dickmeyer says. “I’m not anywhere near ready to manufacture my dyno for sale yet, but, when somebody would call me and we would get into a discussion, it would be one of those ‘You really want to know what ticks me off?’ conversations. They would start venting: ‘It doesn’t do this, this, this…’ I’ve experienced the same thing, which is why mine does that. The perspective that I went with is that a dyno should be able to do anything required to run, test and operate the engine.
“I just didn’t feel there was anything out there that is easy to operate, that is dramatically different than anything else, so I built my own. The principles are similar but I’m offering kind of an alternative form of operation, and I think that alternative, in the end, is actually easier,” Dickmeyer explains.
Matt’s dyno system has turned something that often takes a half a day to get an engine on and all the instrumentation hooked up, to about a 15-minute process.
“As I was building it I’d step back and think, ‘Holy cow. I’m onto something here.’ Then, it really got my brain churning, not only with features that would be good for me but would be good for other people like me,” he says.
Dickmeyer confidently says his system can be operated on three 110-volt outlets. “A guy could literally put this in an enclosed trailer and go from race track to race track,” he says. “If you have an open-wheeled modified that is having a hesitation issue, you can snatch that engine out in 10 minutes,” he says. “If you don’t know if it’s timing or fuel related, you could yank the engine out of the car, put it on the dyno, figure it out, and get it back in the car all on-site with just a small generator and a laptop.”
Of course, other shops can come to conclusions to meet their needs if they invest the time and the creativity into it. However, Dickmeyer disputes any impression that he may be saying don’t look at a conventional dyno. “There may be one that works for you, but if you find that it isn’t what you need, have the creativity and the confidence to do something yourself,” he says.
Though his wife, Jen, is an irreplaceable part of Dickmeyer’s business, he says he’s come to the conclusion that he probably won’t have a huge employee growth. “I’m essentially going to work by myself for the rest of my life, so I wanted to build a piece of equipment that allows me to do so,” he says. “Productivity is key with any piece of equipment. You’re not going to spend $75,000 on a seat and guide machine if you do one or two a year. The easier it is, the more you’ll use it. If it’s easy to use, it’ll be enjoyable and it will become profitable.”
A dyno is multiple pieces of equipment that join together to be one piece of equipment, and no one piece makes the dyno without the other, Dickmeyer explains – and without all of those components, you won’t have a functioning dyno.
“I think that you should be able to buy a dyno, uncrate it, fill the tank with water, put your engine on and get going. And that’s kind of the concept that I went with,” Dickmeyer says. “Dyno suppliers offer to supply most of the components, but they say ‘We’ll give you a list of recommended contractors to build your exhaust system and to build your noise suppression and your water supply.’ And the engine builder then has to handle that part – many of them don’t have time or the know-how to do all this. They could build a ridiculously awesome engine, but they don’t know anything about electrical and plumbing.”
Dickmeyer’s solution was to unitize the cooling system, the fuel and charging system and the water supply, all in units that require a simple hookup. “Everything that goes between the water tank and the absorber is on one unit,” he says. “You just plug it and it’s ready to go.”
Unitized noise suppression is another key feature in Dickmeyer’s design. “A big percentage of engine shops are within city limits, so noise can be a huge deal. There’s nothing worse than spending $80,000 on your new piece of equipment, firing up your first engine and having a couple of sheriffs walk in the door. So I put a lot of my engineering into muffling with a unitized exhaust system.”
His unitized components can easily be adapted to builders’ existing sytems. “The nice thing about it, it’s not rocket science. It’s easy to install, it’s easy to operate, it’s easy to service and most of all, easy to understand,” he says. “I’ve dedicated five data channels just to the water supply because your water supply is how the absorber works. It would be like building a house without ever once putting a voltmeter to the fuse box and just hoping everything is right. So I’ve got pump speed, I’ve got system pressure, I’ve got inlet water temperature, outlet water temperature, as well as a zeroable gallon-per-minute meter. A guy can dyno an engine with all that information on the screen.
“He can become the expert at his own piece of equipment because he has all the information right there that he needs. How much water do you need? Well, after you dyno a couple of engines and you see how many gallons per minute your meter is producing, you can immediately start to correlate how many gallons per minute you need. Then you can actually turn your motor down or up or whatever you need for water supply and volume. With the right information, you can correlate optimal system pressures and water temperatures – what works better, what doesn’t?”
Dickmeyer advocates finding your own answers whenever possible. “When you do that, you’re more professional. I think there’s nothing more professional than someone who intimately knows their equipment. That makes you the person with the answers. You can be the guy who people call and ask questions.”
Simply put, being creative is what this business is all about. “It comes back to the idea of being creative and coming up with the best thing for the customer, whether it’s engine building or making the engine building process better,” Dickmeyer says. “If we as engine builders always did what the manufacturer recommended, we wouldn’t be nearly as far as we are now.”