Thursday, 29 March 2012

How a block heater works

Most of the generators I come across have the coolant circulation style heater. There are still some that use a plug style but those are likely to have something like this occur:

The coolant circulating style heat the coolant so it starts boiling and rising up causing the coolant to circulate through the engine. For most units it only circulates through the engine and not the rad because if your radiator is working properly the coolant will be cold again by the time it gets to the bottom. This constant circulation allows the entire engine block to warm up somewhat evenly. If it fails to circulate the block heater will burn out. This is actually quite common and block heaters do fail somewhat regularly. Many people think that an indoor generator doesn't require a block heater because it's never cold. The block heater doesn't just warm up the oil it also makes it easier for the engine to start. The aluminum pistons warm up much quicker than the engine block. A block heater eliminates any period of time that the pistons have expanded before the block causing them to scuff against the cylinder liners.
Here is a picture of a typical coolant heater. You can see that the element is inside of the plastic piece with cold coolant entering from the bottom and hot coolant boiling up the top.

Many people seem to believe that only diesel engines use this style of heater but they are even common on small gas engines like this little four cylinder Datsun:

The block heater is the most common area for coolant leaks. You will see the residue left on the hoses or the heater itself like this:

These leaks are easy to spot and usually very easy to fix.
The most common problem I have with block heaters is that they attract rodents! A toasty warm engine is like a luxury hotel to mice so make sure you animal proof the enclosure!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

How to troubleshoot your Onan's ignition system

While in Edmonton I've been working on a lot of Safeway units.  They are all little Onan generators, the majority being 15JC models.  Being in a grocery store they don't get tested every month and sometimes go almost a year without starting.  This causes the breaker points to get stuck open and no spark is produced.  Two generators in a row had this issue which was a little frustrating but a somewhat easy fix (especially if your hands are as small as mine).  I just pulled off the points and sanded down the post they pivot on with emery paper then lubed it with dielectric grease.  Here is a video of what the points look like when they are stuck open:

Here is my typical procedure for troubleshooting an Onan's ignition system:
    For most units I need to start the engine from the unit instead of the transfer switch.  Some have a Auto-Off-Manual switch on the front of the unit.  If there is no switch you will need to open the lower control panel cover and either flip the switch that is inside (if there is one) or pull off wire #2 on the terminal strip.
Here's a picture of the electric start/manual start switch inside the control panel
   Heres a picture of the terminal strip with wire #2 if there is no switch

    When the unit fails to start put your meter on the battery to check your cranking voltage.  A cranking voltage of about 9.6 vdc is considered okay.
    Pull off a spark plug wire and pop it onto an old spark plug (or screwdriver if you dont have one) and hold it to a known ground to check for spark.
    If there is no spark use your meter to check for B+ at the coil while cranking.  This photo shows where to put your meter to read full battery voltage.
    You can also check the resistance of the spark plug wire from your coil to the distributor to make sure it isn't a damaged wire which is common.  If you suspect that the coil has failed you can check the specs for what the primary and secondary resistance should be and check it with your meter.
    Like in the video you can check that your points are making contact.  If they are they may just need to be cleaned.  Take a clean piece of white paper and fold it a couple times and swipe it between the breaker points.
    On some Onan units the other small wire on the coil should read half battery voltage while it is cranking and if you are reading full battery voltage your breaker points are not making contact and you need to re-adjust the gap.  Setting the gap of the points varies for each model so you will need to look up the procedure in a manual if possible.  I will try to make a posting in the future with the proper procedure for different models as they are always quite old and the manuals are kind of difficult to obtain.
    Inside the cover shown in this picture you can find a little push button and when you push it you should hear your "Go" solenoid click. 

    Also check how dirty the rotor contacts are, how worn your spark plugs are, and make sure all plug wires are on tight.  This is where I start from and if this all fails phone calls are made.  Hopefully this makes sense and there may be a part 2 in the future with more tips.

**Note:  Onanism is apparently the art of masturbation named after the god Onan.  This post is about generators and not touching yourself so please keep that in mind before attempting these procedures!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

How to be a good handyman/woman

    I have noticed, after working with quite a few guys, that a lot of people can excel in their field but struggle with some very simple tasks.  I'm talking simple as in opening a bucket!  I was working with a new coworker who is a licensed electrician and has worked around high voltage for years.  He's a very smart guy but I caught him struggling to get a lid off of an empty pail.  I didn't think too much of it but then it happened again this week while training a guy at the Edmonton branch.  They both went straight for ripping the lid off the pail.  These pails have very easy to follow instructions printed on them showing that you have to remove the seal before opening the pail or you will really make your life difficult.  It seems that a lot of guys (hey maybe girls too but I unfortunately never get to work with any!) jump right into things without reading the instructions.
    Another example is how often they over-tighten their oil filters, which you know is a huuuge pet peeve of mine!  The filters show right on them how to install them and NO TOOLS are necessary!  9 times out of 10 half a minute of reading can save you a major struggle.  I always check the data sheet before I head out to my job so I know what I'm getting myself into.  If you have to park half a block away from the unit you're working on it's nice to have a cart ready.  If it's located outside you'll probably want to grab your jacket.  If something seems off it can be a HUGE help to call up the last guy who was there and ask them if they had any issues.  I don't understand the need to jump right into something and do it the wrong way and then re-do it after wasting your time.  Kind of like asking for directions, checking the manual might be some sort of shot to the male ego but I would rather get a job done right the first time and go rest my little girl ego at home ;)

Thursday, 1 March 2012

How to stay warm while working in the cold

I am in Edmonton, Alberta for 16 days helping this branch of the company that I work for play catch-up while their PM techs are in school.  It has been one day of travel (after my 1 hour flight turned into over 4 hours when it was too foggy to land in Edmonton!!) and one day of work so far.  I already have some ideas on what works and what doesn't for staying warm.
  • Long johns are you friend!  Whether you're wearing coveralls, dickies, carharts, jeans, or whatever type of leg covering.. WEAR LONG JOHNS.  They make you feel bulky for about 10 minutes then you get used to them and forget they are there keeping you toasty.
  • TOQUE.  I have been told that "toque" is a slightly Canadian word so for those outside of the great white north it is a warm hat.  I really don't understand how you cannot have a word for a "warm-hat".  If not toque then what?    Anyways..  In cold weather you lose most of your body's heat through your head.  By simply wearing a toque your body doesn't close the blood vessels to your extremities in order to send warm blood through your head.  Keeping your head warm with a toque lets your blood warm up those fingers and toes!
  • Layers and layers and layers and layers.  I mean it's pretty well-known to dress in layers when it's cold but people still ignore that rule!  Today I wore a long sleeve undershirt, my work shirt, my fleece sweater and my high-vis coat.  I was packing up in the shop and had to peel off some layers to stop myself from getting a good sweat going before going out into the brrrrrrr of Edmonton.  I have extra socks in the work truck and a pair of coveralls.
  • Wear gloves.  Adding even the thinnest layer between your bare skin and the bitter cold air makes a world of difference.  It's also nice to put lotion on and wear gloves so your hands don't look like the ice on your windshield after drying out in this crazy Albertan air! 
  • I have mixed feelings on drinking hot beverages when it's cold.  Yes it feels amazing to hold a warm drink and warm up your belly but for some reason I feel the need to pee is much worse when you are also shivering.  However, if you layer properly and wear your toque then you shouldn't have to worry about shivering ;)
  • Keep moving
  • When all else fails... hug your running generator for warmth!
As the next couple weeks continue I will update this if I find some other awesome ways to stay warm!  Let me know if you have any great ways of staying warm... even if they come in a flask ;)

View over BC
Compared to the view over Alberta