Things to know about starting air system

1. The required range of starting air pressure

The starting air pressure should be such that it provides enough speed to the piston during its compression stroke for quickly compressing the charge air and reaching the required temperature to initiate combustion of the injected fuel. The starting air pressure is generally of the same range for both the main propulsion engines and the auxiliary engines i.e. between 25 and 42 bars. If the air pressure goes higher than this, then the components of the engine should be sturdy and robust to cater to the same.


The regulation says that the starting air reservoirs should be able to provide 12 consecutive starts without replenishment. For non-reversible engines, 6 consecutive starts are sufficient.


2. The time period for the induction of starting air

For 2 Stroke engines, the starting air valves are opened when the piston just passes the top dead centre and closed when the exhaust valves are about to open in uniflow scavenged engines and exhaust ports in closed and loop scavenged engines.


For 2-stroke engines, the starting air valve is open approximately 10 degrees before TDC (this is actually provided for the valve to open fully when the piston passes the TDC) and around 5 degrees before the exhaust valve opens. In a pulse turbocharged 2-stroke engine, the maximum starting air angle is 115 Degrees.


Starting Air Bottles


3. The overlap period

Overlap is the simultaneous opening of two starting air valves during the starting air sequence. It is necessary to start the engine in any crank position and thus this ensures that at least one valve will open when the starting air is inducted in. If there is no overlap provided, then the engine could stop in any position with all the starting air valves closed, when the starting air was given.


There should be a minimum overlap of 15 degrees provided and the ideal condition should be between 20 degrees and 90 degrees.


For a 4-cylinder 2-stroke engine the firing interval is 90 degrees (360/4) and if the starting air period is 115 degrees then the total overlap period would be the difference between the two, i.e. 115-90=25 degrees.


 4. Indications of leaking starting air valves and the cause of their leakage

The leakage of starting air valves is indicated by the overheating of the line between the starting air valve and the starting air manifold when the engine is in operation. The heating generally occurs due to the passage of hot gases from the engine cylinder to the starting airline.


Thus during manoeuvring, each starting airline should be felt for temperature close to the starting air valves. The common causes of leakage include foreign particles deposited between the valve and the valve seat from the starting air supply system, preventing the valve to close fully or the valve from operating sluggishly because of incorrect clearance between the operating parts.


To determine the leakage in the starting air valve if the engine is standstill, the automatic starting air valve is kept in the open position and the air to the distributor is kept shut. Indicator cocks for all the units to be kept open. The air is now opened from the starting air receiver. Engage the turning gear and bring each unit’s piston to TDC. The leakage of air can be checked from the indicator cocks of the corresponding unit. This will indicate the starting air valve is leaking for a particular unit.


5. Running of the engine with the leaking starting air valve

If overheating of a particular line is felt and the starting air valve leakage is detected, then the starting air branch on the starting air manifold will have to be blanked off. If two or more starting air valves are removed from the engine, then there could be a possibility of the engine failing to start in a particular crank position during manoeuvring.


Thus, the reversing control can be operated and the engine can be given a small starting air in the reverse direction to obtain a different crank position or the turning gear could be engaged and one of the pistons shall be moved in position just after the top dead centre to get the positive torque to turn the engine.


6. Slow-turning valve

If during manoeuvring, the starting air is not inducted for 30 minutes, while the engine is on wheelhouse control, then there’s the automatic activation of the slow turning mode in which the engine is turned very slowly at 8-10 rpm and the air is restricted by a slow turning valve. This is done as a precautionary measure to prevent damage to the engine while starting if there were an oil or water leakage.


7. Running direction interlock

Interlocks are the blocking devices that ensure that the engine is started or reversed only when some conditions are fulfilled or satisfied. Running direction interlock is an essential trait that prevents the injection of fuel to the engine when the telegraph doesn’t synchronize with the running direction of the engine. It is an important application in crash manoeuvring when the starting air is used to apply brakes on the engine by reversing the operation.


8. Turning gear interlock

The turning gear interlock is another important thing that prevents the admission of starting air to the engine cylinders when the turning gear is engaged. If the starting air is admitted with the turning gear engaged, then the turning gear along with the motor will fly off puncturing the bulkhead. Thus the interlock is necessary to prevent such accidents.


These are some of the most important points marine engineers must know about the air starting system on ships.

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