Supercharger Tuning Through Cam Selection and Cam Timing

Camshaft tuning is an essential part of supercharger tuning. Camshafts orchestrate the valve opening and closing events in the engine and decide whether what comes out of our motor is beautiful high power music, or a mess of dysphonics.

The use of the proper supercharger optimized cam shaft can go a long way towards supercharger tuning and give considerable power gains for the money invested.

To understand camshaft timing and camshaft selection we have to understand first:

Relativity: Changing when the valves open or close (intake or exhaust) changes the the valve timing with respect to:

  • The piston position inside the cylinder. Depending on where the pistons is in the stroke, and where we are in the combustion cycle, then opening the valves will exploit the pressure difference between the cylinder and the intake and exhaust manifolds.For example it would make sense that the ideal time to open the intake valve is when there is peak vacuum inside the cylinder so that when the valve opens, the maximum amount of fresh air can be ingested. Similarly, it makes sense not to open the exhaust valve until peak cylinder pressures have been achieved inside the combustion chamber and the combustion is complete and all the power is extracted.
  • The high and low pressure pulses created by the design and runner lengths of the intake and exhaust manifolds.It would make sense to open the intake valve just as the reflected pressure waves in the intake manifold reach the intake valve as a high pressure portion of the wave, thus opening the valve at this high pressure point gives a ‘ram air’ effect through volumetric efficiency resonance tuning increasing air ingestion which increases power.Similarly on the exhaust side, it makes sense to open the exhaust valve, just as the reflected low pressure (vacuum) portion of the exhaust wave (reflected back from the collector) reaches the back of the exhaust valve. At this point in time there is both peak pressure inside the cylinder, and vacuum in the exhaust which creates a higher pressure differencial and a faster evacuating exhaust gas.
  • With respect to the ignition timing event, for example a shorter duration or advanced exhaust cam, opens the exhaust valve sooner with respect to when the mixture was originally ignited, this means that although by advancing the exhaust cam we may have matched our header design and opened the valve with the lowest possible exhaust back pressure for best efficiency, at the same time, we have reduced the amount of time that the mixture is combusted and possibly opened the valve before reaching our peak cylinder pressures and thrown away some horsepower.
  • The intake valves with respect to the exhaust valves: and this is usually described in terms of lobe separation angles (the offset in degrees between the center of the exhaust cam and between the center of the intake cam), or in terms of how many degrees of overlap (the number of degrees that both intake and exhaust valves are open at the same time).

Since the combustion inside the cylinder occurs at a much higher pressure than atmospheric pressure, and since exhaust valves are usually smaller than intake valves (for this same high pressure reason) then exhaust gas velocity is much higher than intake gas velocity. So, in some engines it is beneficial to open the intake valve earlier than usual during the last part of the exhaust stroke, this is called overlap. During overlap – at the very end of the exhaust stroke – the amount of pressure left in the cylinder is low so it is possible to breathe in new air under atmospheric pressure, at the same time, the high velocity of the exhaust gasses exiting help draw in even more fresh air from the intake side in an effect much like ‘syphoning’ where the fluid (in our case air) flows as a continuous stream drawing in new intake air after the old exhaust gas leaves.

The other part of phenomenon that relates to timing intake valves with respect to exhaust valves is the duration of time where both valves are absolutely closed, which is your power stroke. This is the part of the combustion cycle where the mixture can be compressed and combusted. If either (or both) intake or exhaust valves are open you will not be able to neither compress nor combust the mixture, and the absolute duration of time (in degrees of rotation) that your mixture is combusted and allowed to reach peak cylinder pressures is affected by camshaft selection and cam timing. One thing to note is that the valve angle has a lot to do with exhaust scavenging, obviously you will get maximum scavanging if the exhaust and intake valves had ‘line of sight’ i.e. if the valves were separated by an angle of 180*. If so, the exhaust air can directly pull in new air. Conversely, you would have the least possible scavenging if you had valves that were at a narrow angle (zero degrees at the extreme) between each other, so that the air would essentially have to make a U turn to come in through the intake and get pulled out the exhaust.

So different motors respond differently to overlap depending on the exhaust back pressure and the valve angle. Find a variety of manifold valves from KP-LOK

Duration:

Cam duration is the number of degrees of the entire 360* rotation that the intake or exhaust valve is open. The longer the duration, the more air you can get into the motor, the more overlap you have (which helps more with higher rpm power performance), the shorter your power stroke is (which reduces your combustion duration and your peak cylinder pressures reducing low rpm fuel efficiencly and clean idle….etc

Increased duration (with it’s increased overlap and scavenging) also gives the opportunity for exhaust gasses to get to the intake, or intake gasses to leak to the exhaust, and so are more sensitive to proper timing events otherwise we can get some negative effects from being ‘overcammed’

Lift:

Lift is how far or how deep the valve opens into the cylinder. The more lift you have, the less the valve is a restriction to incoming air because it is farther away from the direct path of entering or exiting air. Adding lift in general adds power to all rpms, depending on how well the camshaft (and valve train) can accelerate the valve to a higher lift number in a short duration. It’s like a ramp, the shorter the duration and higher the lift, the steeper the ramp. So what happens here is that if your valve train isn’t light enough and well controlled (Through proper valve springs or hydraulic lifting and damping) to operate that rapidly then lift will give you improved performance at lower rpms (where there is a lot of time to move the valve to peak lift) but reduced performance at higher rpms, where there are more rounds per minute and so less time per round, and thus less time to go up the steep ramp and push the valve out to full extension.

Lift is good, but usually people don’t try to radically increase lift on their aftermarket cams because of a few considerations:

  1. Make sure that at this new lift, that there is still enough clearance between the valve (at full extension) and the cylinder (at top dead center) to prevent any catastrophic mechanical failure.
  2. Upgrade to lighter valve train, with stiffer springs or dual valve springs to have more control over the valve with this steeper cam profile.
  3. It does add power but it doesn’t shift the power curve up or down as radically as changing cam duration does, and so in most aftermarket applications we really want a cam to give us peak power at a certain rpm range and so we care much more about the best duration (and some added lift).