If you're like us, we endured science in school for two reasons: we got to dissect some critters and we got to make/watch things explode.
Most of us still like to dissect things-mostly our diesel truck or any number of other mechanical objects-and watch things explode (which, for some of you, includes your diesel truck again). In fact, we're all about tearing our diesel down, adding something here or there and then putting it back together. That's science to us. As an added bonus, if we can make our diesel go faster (read: more horsepower), we're all over that science thing.
So when we got to tour the Hypertech facility, located just outside of Memphis, TN, in Bartlett, our ears really perked up when Hypertech's tuning manager John Lambert said, "It's a science experiment, that's all it is."
Lambert was talking about Hypertech's process of testing vehicles to see where the company can get the absolute most it can out of its tuning computer for any given vehicle. Hypertech calls it power tuning and describes the process as "the optimization of the fuel delivery and ignition spark timing curves to produce maximum horsepower and torque." To reach that end goal, Hypertech works to tune a vehicle's-including diesels-computer to make it more efficient and that, in turn, helps create added horsepower and torque. An added byproduct of that testing is usually an increase in miles-per-gallon-with certain Hypertech tuners. Lambert said using a Hypertech tuning computer is like "getting a master tuneup for your vehicle."
In a nutshell, the way this is achieved is Hypertech engineers and techs put a vehicle on one of the company's Superflow AWD chassis dynos where its hooked up to a fairly complex computer system that optimizes the spark and fuel curves point by point over the entire rpm band. It's a painstaking process that requires hours and hours of testing-especially when you consider just how many combinations that can be created by the spark and fuel curves.
10 Minutes Of Hell
We learned that Hypertech's engineers-the company employs 20 of them-pushes each engine to its absolute limit on the dyno. To be able to do this, Hypertech "customized" its dynos to push the envelope with each engine-a rigorous test dubbed "10 minutes of hell" as Lambert called it. During the 10 minutes of hell, Hypertech engineers try to simulate "too much load" on the vehicle in an effort to get the most efficient tunes and hit all the curves described above. Hypertech's Marla Moore explained, "The excessive load testing is also done to explore the capacity of the vehicle with our tuning and the factory tuning to ensure the drivetrain, etc., is capable of handling the extra power our tune provides without exceeding the efficiency of the package as a whole, i.e., the coolant system, trans cooler, trans slip/stress, drivetrain stress, fuel system capacity, etc."
It's because Hypertech engineers have "modified" their two Superflow AWD chassis dynos that they can even attempt the 10 minutes of hell routine. "The dynamometers we have allow us to simulate substantial load against the vehicles," Moore added. "Prior to on-road testing we test the tunes in this manor to allow us to measure the temperatures during this test with our tuning and the stock tuning to ensure we are not exceeding the capacities of the vehicle as a whole. The test typically consists of a wide open throttle pull at a set speed on the chassis dyno for a period in excess of 10 minutes. If exhaust gas temperatures exceed a predetermined limit, or any other discrepancies occur, the tune is revised and the test is repeated."
All that can take an incredible amount of time and patience. Lambert explained, "The fastest I've ever seen a diesel get done was three months." Usually, he said, it takes a longer time on the dyno than that to get the testing done and the information the engineers need to come up with a computer tune. And that's going at it 8-10 hours a day every day.
We don't know many daily diesel drivers who just cruise on flat roads at constant speeds with no loads on or behind their trucks. There's usually a load of some sort on the truck, whether it comes from the heavy foot of the driver or the heavy load being towed or toted.
Hypertech knows that, too, and to help simulate those loads, its engineers "customized" the dynos. The Hypertech dynos use a locomotive brake to provide resistance against the spinning dyno rolls. "Electronically adjusting the resistive load allows us to simulate heavy loads," Moore said.
The locomotive brake is in addition to custom "tuned" software that allows for dynamic loading of the power absorber which gives Hypertech the ability to simulate aerodynamic drag, additional weight and even road grade. Now that's science at its finest.
"When you have 20 plus engineers, nothing is left stock, not even the dynos," Moore said.
Lambert explained that during Hypertech's testing process on an engine, they don't "mess with the fuel pressure. We focus on a pulse width verification process to verify fuel pressure." Moore added, "We have experimented with fuel pressure adjustments, but have found that the stock fuel pressures are typically sufficient for power without sacrificing efficiency. Increasing or decreasing fuel pressure has not shown any additional improvements once all other parameters are optimized."
The goal at Hypertech is not to go after a certain horsepower or torque number for a specific engine-it's to get the most absolute efficient tune from that engine, which ends up giving the vehicle more horsepower (up to 100 hp, depending on the Hypertech tune) and torque with or without a load. Hypertech doesn't stop testing on an engine until its engineers feel they have the most efficient tune they can get.
Once the optimum efficiency for a particular vehicle's engine is found, Hypertech harnesses that information into a tuning computer and heads outside the dyno room for some real world testing on the street, as Moore mentioned.
"You can only do so much on the dyno and it does a good job but there are some things you can't test on the dyno," Lambert said. So they hit the track as well as some Tennessee backroads. For track testing, Hypertech heads to Memphis Motorsports Park, about 13 miles away from the company's Bartlett headquarters.
And here's the interesting part. Because the company offers tuning computers for a wide array of vehicles, it has to test on those actual vehicles. Hypertech has a dealer license and actually buys the vehicles or, in some cases, leases them.
Moore explains why Hypertech buys the vehicles. "While developing the tuning for a vehicle, we may have to keep it on the dyno for months for thousands of pulls, test it on the track and then on the road before we release the tune for beta testing. Besides optimized engine efficiency, consistency and reliability are benchmarks we have to meet for the release a product," she said. When we are finished with the vehicle we sell it to another dealer or a very happy enthusiast."
Lambert admits, "We have a pretty ridiculous testing regimen."
Yes, maybe, but it's all in the name of science.
Eight Questions For Hypertech's Marla Moore
After touring the Hypertech facility in Bartlett, TN, we sat down with Marla Moore to ask her her thoughts on the diesel industry and the issues facing it. Moore, is the advertising director for Hypertech.
Diesel Tech: Gas prices have gone back down from when we met last winter in Memphis but the question remains: Is everything to do with the diesel industry tied to gas prices?
Marla Moore: There's no denying that fuel prices are a big concern for most diesel truck/SUV owners. These trucks are heavy duty haulers that typically rack up the miles. The price of fuel is felt immediately when the tank gets dry, so that big hit at the pump puts an exclamation point on a jump in fuel prices. Regardless of fuel price fluctuations, if we can increase the efficiency of the engine at any operating point, we do. This will always help improve the power output and fuel economy and that pays off over the life of the vehicle well beyond the price of Hypertech's products.
DT: In your mind and in your discussions with others in the industry, what is the No. 1 issue facing the diesel industry? Emissions? Fuel prices? Government regulations?
MM: In recent years, the diesel aftermarket industry has become increasingly involved with government regulations, including emissions testing, and I see that continuing. Emissions testing is very expensive for diesel engines because the current test methods are performed on an engine dynamometer rather than the typical chassis dynamometer, which most gasoline vehicles are tested on. As always, I think the advancements in technology are going to continue to be a challenge for the diesel aftermarket industry. Improvements in the engine, fueling, computers and other drivetrain parts are incorporated into these vehicles almost annually, so there's a lot for the aftermarket industry to work on. That's what makes it exciting.
DT: Where will the diesel industry be in two years? In five years?
MM: There are plenty of rumors of smaller diesel engines being incorporated into smaller vehicles due to the government push for much higher fuel economy. If that ideology holds to fruition, we could have a lot of fuel burners on the road and that could make a much bigger aftermarket diesel industry.
DT: What is the tuner's role in that two-year picture? The five year picture?
MM: Obviously, with more potential vehicles to tune, there's going to be a lot to do and learn. Also, with more strict emissions and fuel economy requirements, the technology will continue to advance and that could open up the doors for more collaboration between aftermarket companies to offer even better improvements.
DT: More specifically, what is the future of diesel tuning? Some within the industry are somewhat pessimistic-others not so much.
MM: There are definitely going to be challenges to overcome and the government enforcement of emission testing may require additional testing that could be very expensive. For some companies, this may close the doors, but it's realistic to believe that there will be plenty of opportunities to continue providing effective aftermarket products to a great deal of enthusiasts. At Hypertech we are already taking the steps to stay ahead of the curve and believe we can continue to deliver cleaner, more efficient and more powerful tuning for future diesel owners.
DT: As the diesel industry continues to evolve, will the emphasis be more on fuel economy or horsepower. What will the deciding factors of that be, i.e., government regulation, fuel prices, other outside influences?
MM: There's no true difference in a tune for power or economy at Hypertech. Our tuning methods explore and alter the engine tuning to optimize the efficiency of the engine. The by products of this are improved power and fuel economy. Our Stage 3 tuning for diesel pickups offers the most powerful tune that maintains engine, turbo and fuel system efficiency without degrading the integrity of other powertrain components (i.e. transmission slippage). Our Stage 2 and Stage 1 tuning offers the same efficient tuning at more moderate power levels which allows our customers the diversity to choose the tune that best fits their driving habits. Because we focus on efficiency rather than a certain power output, there are no restrictions on towing loads, etc., other than the OEMs maximum allowed capacities for the vehicle. This allows us to offer the most power available for towing-period-while maintaining safe egt levels. With this understood, Hypertech's focus will continue to be optimizing the efficiency of these engines.
DT: Are there any major smoke versus emission issues out there that are of concern to the diesel industry?
MM: If you can see soot, the emissions are poor and that should not be acceptable. And the notion that smoke equates to more power just isn't true.
A diesel engine operates by compressing the air in its cylinders to such a high temperature and pressure that ignition occurs immediately when fuel is injected into the combustion chamber. A diesel engine has no throttle to restrict the incoming air, so power output is controlled by the amount of fuel injected. Some people think that black smoke coming out of the tailpipe means power, but really it's just burning money.
To increase power in diesel engines, most tuners dump more fuel into the engine, which not only leads to excessively high exhaust gas temperatures and black smoke, but could possibly damage the diesel particulate filter (DPF), resulting in more frequent regenerations and dramatically decreased fuel economy. At Hypertech, power tuning a diesel engine properly requires more than just injecting more fuel. Our engineers monitor the critical exhaust gas temperature (egt), emissions and opacity-soot and smoke-when they develop our exclusive Power Tuning programs.
DT: The EPA sent out to dealers saying they can't sell products that are for off road use only. What has been the fallout from that letter? Has anything changed recently with regards to that?
MM: Yes, the ARB of California has moved to enforce this policy by contacting resellers who advertise products that are not legal for sale in California due to emissions noncompliance. These products cannot be advertised without clear indication that they are not road legal. This is forcing more and more companies to finally step up to obtain an official Executive Order (EO) from the ARB to show that their products are compliant with the California emissions requirements.
From the beginning, Hypertech has included meeting all EO requirements in its product development process and has obtained or is pending CARB EO for all its emissions-related products. At this time CARB has not approved a criteria for diesel emissions testing, but we feel confident that we will meet all requirements when that time comes.