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THEORY: Reciprocating Engine Vibration

By Lloyd Johnson

Piston Engine Vibration

An internal combustion engine produces power using the extremely rapid pressure pulse
of burning air fuel mixture above the piston. These powerful pulses of energy cause the
engine to vibrate in response. Engine designers do their best to make these forces
cancel out to minimize vibrations. But, no matter how well the designer does his job, he
cannot eliminate all inherent vibrations in an engine. Therefore we need to remember
that it is perfectly normal for an IC (Internal combustion) engine to produce a
characteristic vibration spectrum signature. Vibration analysis of IC engines then must
focus on "variations" from the "normal" vibration signature.

Normal Vibration Signature

Each combustion pulse acts much like a hammer blow, hitting the engine block with a
pulse of energy. The vibration spectrum of such a pulse is a series of vibration spectral
lines. These spectral lines will be at integer multiples of the firing rate of each piston. In
a four stroke engine the piston fires every other revolution, therefore the fundamental
spectral line will be at 1/2 the engine RPM, often called the 1/2 order vibration. The
result will be a vibration signature that has spectral lines at the 1/2 order, 1P, 1-1/2P,
2P, 2-1/2P, 3P ... etc. In our experience, we have found that most 4 and 6 cylinder
horizontally opposed IC engine produce these spectral lines in varying patterns but the
levels are usually in the range of .2-.5 IN/S. For unknown reasons we have found it is
not uncommon for an engine to produce a 2P or 2-1/2P vibration in the range of .5-1.0
IN/S. These readings are taken on the ground at typically 2500 RPM.

1/2 Order Vibrations

It turns out that if all of the pistons produce nearly identical combustion pulses, the 1/2
order vibration will be very small, .1-.3 IN/S. When any one cylinder produces less
power than the rest, the 1/2 order vibration will increase from .3 IN/S on up to over 1
IN/S for a misfire. Mechanics know very well what can cause one cylinder to be weak.
Plug misfire, bad plug, plugged injector, broken ring, leaky valve, low compression, bad
magneto, worn cam, collapsed lifter, etc. Any of these things can cause a higher than
normal 1/2 order vibration.

1/2 order vibration are especially troublesome as they can be felt in the cabin by the
pilot. Low frequency vibrations are not well isolated by most engine mounts, and the
vibration will shake the entire aircraft. If not taken care of, a 1/2 order vibration can
loosen rivets, hinges, and pivots all over the airframe, as well as causing premature pilot
fatigue. This is a serious safety issue.

1P Vibrations

1P vibrations are usually dominated by propeller imbalance. Happily we can correct this
with propeller dynamic balance. 1P vibrations can also be caused by unequal piston
mass. Pistons and cylinders are often replaced 1 jug at a time, and once in a great while
the wrong weight piston is used due to error. In horizontally opposed engines, this will
produce a 1P vibration in the horizontal plane, but little vibration in the vertical plane. An
out of balance prop will produce nearly equal vertical and horizontal vibrations. If the
rear of the engine has a high 1P vibration that is not corrected by balancing the prop,
piston mass imbalance is the most likely cause.
1/2 order -cylinder to cylinder variation in firing pressures or timing

1 order - balance of the crank

2 order- most troublesome frequency component from non sinusoidal motion of piston and conrod, worse
on an inline 4 due to the crank layout

3 order - firing frequency on a 6 cylinder

1 and 2 order in particular can be very large forces, very hard to isolate in your engine mounts.

First and second order vibrations are both helped by making the reciprocating parts as light as possible to
minimize the magnitude of the vibration. But beyond that ...

To address 1st-order vibrations:

Cylinder configuration versus crank weights versus balance shafts versus engine mounts. A single needs
two balance shafts, one on each side, spinning opposite direction of the crank, with both the crank and
balance shaft weights correctly selected to offset the piston and con-rod. A lot of production singles make
do with one balance shaft and just deal with the resulting rocking couple (my Honda motorcycle is like
that). A lot of others just let 'er shake (practically every lawn mower, etc). A parallel 360-degree twin is the
same as a single for purposes of vibration. A 90-degree V-twin with the correct crank counterweights has
perfect primary balance. An inline triple has perfect primary up-and-down balance but they have a first-
order rocking-couple imbalance that needs a counter-rotating balance shaft to offset. Triumph 3-cylinder
motorcycle engines use balance shafts. Many automotive 3-cylinders have no balance shafts and they just
let the engine mounts (more or less) deal with it. And so on ...

Balance your pistons and rods. Every up-and-down pair of pistons ought to have as close to the same
weight as possible. Same with the con-rods, and both the small-end and big-end matter and should be
balanced separately. The crank counterweights have to be correct for the pistons and rods. And so on ...

For 2nd-order vibrations:

Triples and inline-sixes have little second-order vibration. Take a look at the crankshaft in a normal
(American) V8 engine. It isn't flat like an inline-four crankshaft. In each bank for each two pistons that are
up-and-down there are two that are mid-travel. Reason: better second-order balance, and remember that
since a 90-degree V-twin with the right crank weights has perfect primary balance on its own, stacking 4 of
them end-to-end still has perfect primary balance (and you can cancel out some of the counterweights by
doing this). For an inline-four ... Two counter-rotating balance shafts running twice crank speed. Or, use
long rods relative to the stroke (it minimizes the origin of the second-order vibration).

The original poster would do well to study the design of the 2009-onwards Yamaha R1 1000cc inline-four -
the one with the "crossplane" crankshaft - and understand why this uneven-firing engine runs smoother at
high revs than its traditional even-firing competitors.

Engine shaking forces owing to mechanical inertias result from the reciprocating motion of the piston as
others have indicated.

The usual simplification is to lump the mass of the connecting rod and bearings on the crankshaft side of
the rod C.G. with the crank and call that the rotating mass. The section of the connection rod from the rod
C.G. to the piston is lumped with the piston, pin and rings into what is called the reciprocating mass. The
rotaing bits can often be balanced with counterweights and such. Unbalanced rotating bits only generate
first order (crank speed) forces.

You can find an approximation for the reciprocating force in Mark's Handbook or a book on engines. Almost
all of these are based on a rapidly converging series generated by use of the binomial theorem.

The first term in the series is a cosine function of the crankshaft position. The second term contains the
ratio of the crank arm radius (half the stroke) to connecting rod length (center to center) and the cosine of
twice the crank angle. It is because the second term contains the double speed function that is called the
second order force. The third term contains a quadruple speed term which gives a fourth order.

The forces of orders greater than one, produced by an individual cylinder are in line with the bore axis of
that cylinder.

There can also be some rotary couples to deal with. Picture an opposed two cylinder engine. The crank
may be in perfect static balance but because the cylinders are slightly offset from each other, the equal an
opposing forces of the pistons and rods as well perhaps, as some of the rotating bits, don't line up with
each other. This offset of the crank pins along the crankshaft axis leads to a couple in the twin cylinder. A
three cylinder has rotating couples.

A handy chart Table 8-2 in "The Internal Combustion Engine in Theory and Practice", Charles F. Taylor
Volume 2, MIT Press summarizes the characteristics of many different engine configurations. (Memory says
this may be a copy of a table in a Ker Wilson book which you may well have in an NVH business).

Your mounts also need to handle the reaction torque of the engine. I always thought that Den Hartog's
book on vibrations gave a pretty good summary of the engine vibration and suggest that you give it a look.