3D Printer Air Compressor Is A Wankel

We wonder if mechanics are as annoyed when we say “engine” as we get when someone talks about a “computer” or a “radio.” Sure, you know what all three of those words mean, but there are many different kinds of radios, computers, and engines. In [3DprintedLife’s] case, he made a compressed air engine of the Wankel style.

The Wankel — a rotary engine — is most famous for its use in some Mazda cars. If you’ve done a lot of 3D printing, you know that creating an air-tight piston on a 3D printer is no mean feat. Of course, he didn’t do it right off the bat. It took what looks like a number of iterations to get it going, and he shares some of what he learned doing this project.

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The Rotary-X Engine Is A Revolution In Thermodynamics

If you’re running an army, chances are good that you need a lot of portable power for everything from communications to weapons control systems. When it comes to your generators, every ounce counts. The smaller and lighter you can get them, the better.

Connecticut-based company LiquidPiston is developing a high-powered generator for the US Army that uses the company’s own rotary x-engine — a small, light, and powerful beast that sounds like a dream come true. It can run on gasoline, diesel, natural gas, kerosene, or jet fuel, and is scalable from 1 to 1,000 horsepower (PDF).

Co-founder and CEO Alex Schkolnik describes the design as a combination of the best parts of the Otto and Atkinson cycle engines, the Diesel, and the Wankel rotary while solving the big problems of the latter two. That sounds impressive, but it doesn’t mean much unless you understand how each of these engines work and what their various advantages and disadvantages are. So let’s take a look under the hood, shall we?

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Remanufacturing A Rotary Airplane Engine

If someone tells you they have seen a rotary engine, the chances are that you will immediately think of a Wankel engine, as you might find in some of the more exotic Mazda sports cars. But there is another rotary engine that has a prior claim to the name, and it can be found as the power unit for many early-twentieth-century aircraft. In these rotary engines the cylinders are arranged radially around a stationary crankshaft, and it is the engine itself that rotates. They have the advantage of extreme simplicity, smooth power, and a low parts count, at the expense of total loss lubrication, a relatively large rotating mass, and some difficulty in controlling their power. These rotary engines were largely obsolete by the 1920s, but  recent upsurge of interest in WW1-era aircraft has led to the creation of a small demand for them. New Zealand based Classic Aero Machining Service have stepped in to fill that gap and are remanufacturing the Gnome radial engine, the most numerous design of that era.

For anyone with an interest in internal combustion engines, the Gnome is a fascinating study. It’s a nine-cylinder design that runs a four-stroke Otto cycle, but instead of the two or more valves you might be familiar with from your motor vehicle it has only a single valve. The so-called Monosoupape design uses its valve for both fuel and exhaust, opening it on the inlet stroke as well as the exhaust stroke. The simplicity of a single valve and no carburetor is thus offset by a difficulty in varying its power , so rotary engines would frequently reduce the number of firing cylinders in lieu of throttling back.

The CAMS Gnome is a faithful copy of the original, but with modern metallurgy and the addition of an electronic ignition system. The original castor oil is still used — it seems classic aviation buffs like the smell — but becuase it is notorious for leaving sticky deposits in the engine they are evaluating modern alternatives. They have some technical details on their website, and there’s a good chance you my hear one of their engines one day at an air show near you.

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3D-Printing Wankel Engine From Mazda’s Beloved “Rotary Rocket”

Although there was briefly a company called Rotary Rocket, the term is much better known as a nickname for the Mazda RX-7 — one of the few cars that used a Wankel, or rotary, engine. If you ever wondered how these worked, why not print a model? That’s what [Engineering Explained] did. They printed a 1/3 scale model and made a video explaining and demonstrating its operation. The model itself was from Thingiverse, created by [EricThePoolBoy].

One thing we really liked about the model was the use of lights to show the different stages of combustion. Cool air intake is a blue light, hot air is red, and so on. It really helps visualize what’s happening. You can watch the video below.

If you haven’t seen a Wankel before, it is a clever design. It has very few moving parts and offers very smooth power transfer and high power to weight ratio. The downside, though, is that the engine deliberately burns oil to lubricate and seal, so it is difficult to meet emission standards and requires a lot of oil. The fuel efficiency of current designs is not very good either, especially since manufacturers will often trade fuel efficiency for better emissions.

If you’d like to read more about the Wankel, check out our earlier post (and the 165 comments attached). We also looked at — or rather through — another Wankel earlier this year.

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See-Through Rotary Engine Reveals Wankel Magic

The Wankel rotary engine is known for its troubled life in the mainstream automotive industry, its high power-to-weight ratio, and the intoxicating buzz it makes at full tilt. Popular with die-hard enthusiasts and punishing to casual owners, it stands as perhaps the most popular alternative internal combustion design to see the light of day. There are myriad diagrams out there to explain its operation, but what if you could see inside?

The video comes courtesy of [Warped Perception], and features a small Wankel rotary engine intended for model aircraft. The engine’s end plate is removed and replaced with a transparent plate, making the combustion process visible. Add in a high-speed camera, and you’ve got a recipe for a great technical video.

It starts with a basic explanation of how the Wankel rotary power cycle operates, before cutting to the glorious slow-motion shots of the engine in operation. It also highlights several techniques useful for producing this type of video, such as painting surrounding components black to make it easier to image the parts of interest. The visuals are amazing and very clearly show the  manner in which the intake, compression, power and exhaust strokes function in the engine.

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