The History of Diesel Engines

Diesel engines are one of the most common power sources on the road today. And you don’t just see them in large trucks and passenger cars, diesel engines power all sorts of equipment, from mining and industrial machinery to yachts and commercial equipment. But the diesel engines we know and love today have come a long way since their invention more than 100 years ago. In this article we’re going to take a look at the history of the diesel engine and see just how far we’ve come.

How Does a Diesel Engine Work?

Similar to petrol engines, diesel engines are a type of internal combustion engine that burns liquid fuel in a sealed chamber to create rotational motion. The invention of diesel engines was a huge step forward for engine technology, with the earliest diesels producing far more power than the steam engines of the time.

Where steam engines burn fuel externally, diesel engines compress a mixture of fuel and air within a sealed chamber. This ignition drives the piston up and down in the cylinder, turning the crankshaft and creating rotational motion that can be used for all sorts of tasks. Modern diesel engines work based on the same principles as the original models, although they’re now much more efficient than their early counterparts.

Who Invented the Diesel Engine?

In the late 19th century, thermodynamics student Rudolf Diesel attended a lecture where he learned that steam engines operated at less than 10% efficiency. He was inspired to design a more efficient engine, and got to work on designing the first diesels.

His idea eventually led him to produce working prototype engines in the summer of 1893. Over the next few years, Rudolf Diesel refined his design and moved through several prototypes, eventually producing an engine that operated at 16.6% efficiency in 1895. With steam engines being popular among manufacturing and industrial companies, the demand for a more efficient engine led many companies to invest in Diesel’s design and encourage his efforts. By the time his engines entered public testing in 1897, Diesel had improved the design so much that his 13.1kW engine returned an impressive 26.2% efficiency rating, triple the efficiency of steam engines.

The History of Diesel Engines

Rudolf Diesel continued to improve and manufacture his engine, including developing compatible supercharging technology. Over the past 100 years, diesel engines have undergone thousands of improvements, and are marked by dozens of important development milestones:

  • 1908 - The first diesel-powered trucks were developed by a range of automobile manufacturers.
  • 1911 - Early injectors are patented by British engineer Frederick Lamplough.
  • 1916 - The first common rail fuel system is developed and used by Vickers for their range of submarine engines.
  • 1925 - After years of using unsatisfactory engines from other manufacturers, Caterpillar Tractor Co appears and develops its own diesel engines for its range of tractors.
  • 1927 - Bosch introduces its first fuel injection pump for diesel-powered trucks.
  • 1930s - Cummins Engine Co, primarily a producer of diesel engines for yachts, finds its market drying up due to the Great Depression. In a great leap forward for diesel automobiles, Cummins contracts with the Purity Stores supermarket chain to power all their trucks with diesel engines.
  • 1960s - Following improvements to engine oils and diesel refining, diesel engines have become the most popular choice for powering commercial trucks and other large equipment.
  • 1980s - With emissions regulations tightening, diesel technology leapt forward with direct injection systems being used to improve efficiency and control the environment inside the cylinders.
  • 1994 - Bosch makes its first electronic fuel injectors available, pairing them with high-pressure common rail injection systems, which manufacturers are quick to adopt.
  • 2000s - Emissions laws becoming more strict, diesel manufacturers pursue more efficient technologies, installing improved turbo and superchargers, particulate filters and more refined computer-control and injection technology. These days, diesel engines aren’t just popular for commercial customers - passenger vehicles, trains, boats, machinery and equipment all over the world makes use of diesel engines.

Looking For a Qualified Diesel Mechanic? Contact KS Diesel Today!

Diesel engines have come a long way in the past 100 years. From the bulky and inefficient early models that were only suitable for powering factory equipment, we now see compact, powerful diesel engines used across the globe. Highly efficient and low-maintenance, diesel engines are the best solution for a variety of applications. And the best way to get more from your diesel engine is to keep it serviced. KS Mobile Diesel Service offers a huge range of diesel repair, servicing and maintenance for all diesel equipment! We handle everything from individual servicing to fleet maintenance and emergency breakdown response. Whatever you need, the KS Diesel team will be there to get you back up and running. Get in touch with us today to book an appointment!

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