DESIGN & FABRICATION OF SUSPENSION SYSTEMS
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31-12-2010, 03:50 PM
Anshul Singh Sengar
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THE SUSPENSION SYSTEM
The job of a car suspension is to maximize the friction between the tires and the road surface, to provide steering stability with good handling and to ensure the comfort of the passengers. In this article, we'll explore how car suspensions work, how they've evolved over the years and where the design of suspensions is headed in the future.
If a road were perfectly flat, with no irregularities, suspensions wouldn't be necessary. But roads are far from flat. Even freshly paved highways have subtle imperfections that can interact with the wheels¬ of a car. It's these imperfections that apply forces to the wheels. According to Newton's laws of motion, all forces have both magnitude and direction. A bump in the road causes the wheel to move up and down perpendicular to the road surface. The magnitude, of course, depends on whether the wheel is striking a giant bump or a tiny speck. Either way, the car wheel experiences a vertical acceleration as it passes over an imperfection.
Without an intervening structure, all of wheel's vertical energy is transferred to the frame, which moves in the same direction. In such a situation, the wheels can lose contact with the road completely. Then, under the downward force of gravity, the wheels can slam back into the road surface. What you need is a system that will absorb the energy of the vertically accelerated wheel, allowing the frame and body to ride undisturbed while the wheels follow bumps in the road.The study of the forces at work on a moving car is called vehicle dynamics, and you need to understand some of these concepts in order to appreciate why a suspension is necessary in the first place. Most automobile engineers consider the dynamics of a moving car from two perspectives:
• Ride - a car's ability to smooth out a bumpy road
• Handling - a car's ability to safely accelerate, brake and corner
These two characteristics can be further described in three important principles - road isolation, road holding and cornering. The table below describes these principles and how engineers attempt to solve the challenges unique to each.
Car Suspension Parts
¬The suspension of a car is actually part of the chassis, which comprises all of the imp¬ortant systems located beneath the car's body.
These systems include:
The frame - structural, load-carrying component that supports the car's engine and body, which are in turn supported by the suspension
• The suspension system - setup that supports weight, absorbs and dampens shock and helps maintain tire contact
• The steering system - mechanism that enables the driver to guide and direct the vehicle
• The tires and wheels - components that make vehicle motion possible by way of grip and/or friction with the road
So the suspension is just one of the major systems in any vehicle.
Springs: Sprung and Unsprung Mass
The sprung mass is the mass of the vehicle supported on the springs, while the unsprung mass is loosely defined as the mass between the road and the suspension springs. The stiffness of the springs affects how the sprung mass responds while the car is being driven.Tightly sprung cars, such as sports cars are less forgiving on bumpy roads, but they minimize body motion well, which means they can be driven aggressively,even around corners.
Unless a dampening structure is present, a car spring will extend and release the energy it absorbs from a bump at an uncontrolled rate. The spring¬ will continue to bounce at its natural frequency until all of the energy originally put into it is used up. A suspension built on springs alone would make for an extremely bouncy ride and, depending on the terrain, an uncontrollable car.
Enter the shock absorber, or snubber, a device that controls unwanted spring motion through a process known as dampening. Shock absorbers slow down and reduce the magnitude of vibratory motions by turning the kinetic energy of suspension movement into heat energy that can be dissipated through hydraulic fluid. To understand how this works, it's best to look inside a shock absorber to see its structure and function.
A shock absorber is basically an oil pump placed between the frame of the car and the wheels. The upper mount of the shock connects to the frame (i.e., the sprung weight), while the lower mount connects to the axle, near the wheel (i.e., the unsprung weight). In a twin-tube design, one of the most common types of shock absorbers, the upper mount is connected to a piston rod, which in turn is connected to a piston, which in turn sits in a tube filled with hydraulic fluid. The inner tube is known as the pressure tube, and the outer tube is known as the reserve tube. The reserve tube stores excess hydraulic fluid.
When the car wheel encounters a bump in the road and causes the spring to coil and uncoil, the energy of the spring is transferred to the shock absorber through the upper mount, down through the piston rod and into the piston. Orifices perforate the piston and allow fluid to leak through as the piston moves up and down in the pressure tube. Because the orifices are relatively tiny, only a small amount of fluid, under great pressure, passes through. This slows down the piston, which in turn slows down the spring.
Shock absorbers work in two cycles -- the compression cycle and the extension cycle. The compression cycle occurs as the piston moves downward, compressing the hydraulic fluid in the chamber below the piston. The extension cycle occurs as the piston moves toward the top of the pressure tube, compressing the fluid in the chamber above the piston. A typical car or light truck will have more resistance during its extension cycle than its compression cycle. With that in mind, the compression cycle controls the motion of the vehicle's unsprung weight, while extension controls the heavier, sprung weight.
All modern shock absorbers are velocity-sensitive -- the faster the suspension moves, the more resistance the shock absorber provides. This enables shocks to adjust to road conditions and to control all of the unwanted motions that can occur in a moving vehicle, including bounce, sway, brake dive and acceleration squat.
Dampers: Struts and Anti-sway Bars
¬A¬nother common dampening structure is the strut -- basically a shock absorber mounted inside a coil spring. Struts perform two jobs: They provide a dampening function like shock absorbers, and they provide structural support for the vehicle suspension. That means struts deliver a bit more than shock absorbers, which don't support vehicle weight -- they only control the speed at which weight is transferred in a car, not the weight itself.
Because shocks and struts have so much to do with the handling of a car, they can be considered critical safety features. Worn shocks and struts can allow excessive vehicle-weight transfer from side to side and front to back. This reduces the tire's ability to grip the road, as well as handling and braking performance.
Anti-sway bars (also known as anti-roll bars) are used along with shock absorbers or struts to give a moving automobile additional stability. An anti-sway bar is a metal rod that spans the entire axle and effectively joins each side of the suspension together.
When the suspension at one wheel moves up and down, the anti-sway bar transfers movement to the other wheel. This creates a more level ride and reduces vehicle sway. In particular, it combats the roll of a car on its suspension as it corners. For this reason, almost all cars today are fitted with anti-sway bars as standard equipment, although if they're not, kits make it easy to install the bars at any time.