One of the tricky parts of engineering in the physical world is making machines work with the available resources and manufacturing technologies. [Tom Stanton] has designed and made a couple of air-powered 3D printed engines but always struggled with the problem of air leaking past the 3D-printed pistons. Instead of trying to make an air-tight piston, he added a rubber membrane and a clever valve system to create a diaphragm air engine.
A round rubber diaphragm with a hole in the center creates a seal with the piston at the top of its stroke. A brass sleeve and pin protrude through the diaphragm, and the sleeve seals create a plug with an o-ring, while the pin pushes open a ball which acts as the inlet valve to pressurize an intermediate chamber. As the piston retracts, the ball closes the inlet valve, the outlet valve of the intermediate chamber is opened, forcing the diaphragm to push against the piston. The seal between the piston and diaphragm holds until the piston reaches its bottom position, where the pressurized air is vented past the piston and out through the gearbox. For full details see the video after the break.
It took a few iterations to get the engine to run. The volume of the intermediate chamber had to increase and [Tom] had to try a few different combinations of the sleeve and pin lengths to get the inlet timing right. Since he wanted to use the motor on a plane, he compared the thrust of the latest design with that of the previous version. The latest design improved efficiency by 366%. We look forward to seeing it fly!