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Diesel Chips - the Good & the Bad

Diesel Chips

The Good & The Bad

One of the first things anyone looking for more performance in any of today's computer-controlled vehicles - car, truck, gas, or diesel - is a "chip," often referred to as a performance chip, power programmer or power chip, to modify functions of the factory computer to supposedly add more power to the vehicle. Actually, this is the last thing you should do.

The engineers at Banks have studied and tested many of these diesel chips, and have found their parameters to vary widely. Some do almost nothing. Others do way too much, or do things at the wrong time, leading to potential engine or drivetrain damage. In many cases the addition of such a chip requires the use of premium fuel, and can definitely lead to engine damage if cheap fuel is used instead. Installing a chip is sort of like taking an over-the-counter pill for a serious illness, when a doctor's examination and prescription is necessary.

The approach at Gale Banks Engineering is just the opposite. We design physical components to increase airflow into and out of the engine to add power, and then we add an electronic module to match fuel delivery to maximize power and economy with that specific power system in a way that also protects the engine and driveline from damage or wear. This module is called OttoMind (or the EconoMind in some applications).

The name derives from Nicholas Otto, the person who defined the 4-cycle internal combustion engine. Such an engine (gas or diesel) is known as an Otto engine, or Otto-cycle engine. You can think of the "Mind" part of the name as a brain (i.e. computer) or as something that tends, or takes care of, this engine.

As a hot rodder, I understand mechanical things. I understand thermodynamics. I can wire a car. That's physical. But when it comes to electricity, or electronics in particular, that's pure voodoo as far as I'm concerned. So I'm probably the last person who should be explaining this device. On the other hand, I can understand why it might be difficult to fully comprehend what it does. In fact, I'm not even going to begin to fully explain what it does. Let me just say that it does a lot more than you might think.

I just went over to the electronics shop, and one of the engineers started showing me, on his computer screen, the various things the Ford Power Stroke OttoMind reads, such as 43 "scalers," 46 functions, and 16 tables. It's not a case of if this is this, then the OttoMind does this. It's a case of if this is this and this is this and this is this (and so on) then the OttoMind does this. He showed me several different 3-dimensional, multicolored "maps" of these various scenarios or situations. All of this in a little plug-in module about the size of a matchbook.

In layman terms, the OttoMind monitors boost (manifold pressure), exhaust gas temperature (EGT-Dodge/Cummins only), engine speed (RPM), throttle position, and torque converter lock-up, along with the element of time, in order to regulate, or modify, fuel delivery both in terms of quantity and timing. For instance, given a certain mix of inputs, the OttoMind might increase fuel delivery and inject the fuel sooner (that is, advance timing).

Why do we want to do this? In either a gasoline or a diesel engine the air/fuel ratio is extremely important. I would consider it the most vital element of tuning an engine. If you add more air to the cylinder (as Banks does), you must add a proportional amount of fuel. The ideal air/fuel ratio is known as stoichiometric. But gasoline and diesel engines react oppositely to rich and lean conditions. If you add too much fuel to a gas engine you lose power for a couple of reasons, one being that you cool the charge. When a gas engine goes lean, cylinder temperature goes up. If you add extra fuel to a diesel, power increases, but so does cylinder temperature (as indicated by exhaust gas temperature - EGT - which is much easier to measure.). Increased cylinder temperature produces increased power, but it quickly leads to engine damage, starting with burned valves and then broken pistons. But, see, that is exactly what most diesel chips do - dump more fuel in to increase power. It works, to a point. But, at the least it hurts fuel economy and increases exhaust soot, and at the worst it can smoke your motor. Pistons with holes in the top don't work very well.

This gives you a general idea of what Banks OttoMind does. The unit might look like a plug-in diesel chip, but it's much more than just a chip. And that's why we don't call the OttoMind a chip.