Underground » Mining Technology and Production
A programmable engine control unit (ECU) has been developed that has potential to be used by diesel engine and/or vehicle suppliers for underground coal mines. It has been retro-fitted to a modern common rail engine, replacing the manufacturer's (tamperproof) ECU, and tested extensively in a surface road vehicle. More work is required to have it approved for underground use and integrate with the electrics on-board the vehicle.
Relatively simple adjustments via a laptop computer enable major changes in engine response, power, emissions etc. The programmable ECU can be easily configured for engines of up to 8 cylinders and can offer all the features required by a modern emission controlled diesel, such as multi-phase injection, closed loop control, compensation for temperature, altitude etc.
Even without considering statutory approvals, the ECU and related common rail injection hardware cannot be easily retro-fitted to old generation indirect injection engines such as the Mazda/Kia/Perkins 6/247 seen in many PJB Mine Cruisers. To do so would require a new cylinder head and pistons, plus a drive system for the ultra-high pressure fuel pump. The authors do not believe this is a financially viable option given the age of the core engine and as such, this technology is not an answer for improving emissions from old generation engines.
A complete common rail injection system, along with the programmable ECU, has been successfully retro-fitted to a modern Perkins 1104C-44 direct injection engine and tested to AS3584. The testing found that the ECU could be used to precisely control the engine performance and emission characteristics, with changes to meet any specified emissions target very simply made. In this project, the common rail injection system itself made no overall improvement to the power of the test engine, but it is believed that this is a result of poor matching between the individual injection components chosen, and the engine itself.
In the very near future, the use of technology like this is inevitable to control modern engines trying to achieve underground approval. It is seen to be a more comprehensive and robust solution than tampering with factory ECUs and/or their related sensors. Programmable ECUs such as those developed, can include extensive data logging and be easily integrated with external devices like methanometers, speed controllers etc. They are no more or less difficult to have approved than the locked factory ECUs.