A camshaft is a shaft to which a cam is fastened or of which a cam forms an integral part.
An early cam was built into Hellenistic water-driven automata from the 3rd century BC. The camshaft was later described in Iraq (Mesopotamia) by Al-Jazari in 1206. He employed it as part of his automata, water-raising machines, and water clocks such as the castle clock. The cam and camshaft later appeared in European mechanisms from at least the 14th century, or possibly earlier.
In internal combustion engines with pistons, the camshaft is used to operate poppet valves. It then consists of a cylindrical rod running the length of the cylinder bank with a number of oblong lobes protruding from it, one for each valve. The cams force the valves open by pressing on the valve, or on some intermediate mechanism as they rotate.
Camshafts can be made out of several different types of material. These include:
Chilled iron castings: this is a good choice for high volume production. A chilled iron camshaft has a resistance against wear because the camshaft lobes have been chilled, generally making them harder. When making chilled iron castings, other elements are added to the iron before casting to make the material more suitable for its application.
Billet Steel: When a high quality camshaft is required, engine builders and camshaft manufacturers choose to make the camshaft from steel billet. This method is also used for low volume production. This is a much more time consuming process, and is generally more expensive than other methods. However the finished product is far superior. When making the camshaft, CNC lathes, CNC milling machines and CNC camshaft grinders will be used. Different types of steel bar can be used, one example being EN40b. When manufacturing a camshaft from EN40b, the camshaft will also be heat treated via gas nitriding, which changes the micro-structure of the material. It gives a surface hardness of 55-60 HRC. These types of camshafts can be used in high-performance engines.
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