By William Pearce
Hermann Michel* of Voorde, Germany was a foreman at the Krupp Germania shipyard in Kiel, Germany. Through his work, he experienced the common problems of two-stroke submarine engines. Seeking to avoid the disadvantages of conventional engines, Michel designed a unique, new engine. He believed his engine would be particularly well suited for marine use. His design was for an opposed-piston, two-stroke, diesel engine. Beyond the use of opposed pistons, the Michel engine was unique in that it was a crankless cam engine. With minor changes in the basic engine design, the cylinder group could either be stationary or rotate like a rotary engine. Michel filed a patent application for his engine configuration in Germany on 20 July 1920 and in the United States on 23 August 1921.
Michel’s engine design was for either two pistons in a common cylinder or three pistons in three cylinders. Regardless of the number of pistons used, the cylinder group possessed a common combustion chamber in which the pistons moved toward each other on the compression stroke. The movement of opposite pistons covered or uncovered intake and exhaust ports that were in the cylinder walls. This configuration eliminated the use of valves and a head gasket. The intake and exhaust port locations allowed scavenging air to flow through the cylinder and completely evacuate any exhaust gases when the ports were open.
The engine did not have a crankshaft. The pistons’ movement was controlled by a comparatively large cam ring that surrounded the cylinder group. The rod for each piston had rollers in an annular cam track that formed an undulating path. This path determined the pistons’ movement in the cylinder and facilitated the compression stroke. When configured with stationary cylinders, the cam ring rotated around the cylinder group. For a rotary configuration, the cylinder group rotated inside the stationary cam ring.
Unlike a crankshaft that is directly tied to the cycle of the engine, the cam ring could be made with several compression and power cycles for each revolution. For example, if the cam ring had six cycles, the cylinder group would go through six compression and six power strokes for each revolution of the cam ring. Likewise on a rotary configuration, the cylinder group would go through six compression and six power strokes each revolution.
Michel took out at least five other patents relating to and further detailing his engine design. A patent filed on 27 October 1923 detailed the use of an auxiliary cam ring. In this design, the cam track was widened and the piston rod’s main roller rode on the track’s main outer edge during normal engine operation. The power stroke forced the main roller against the main track, and the main track was forced against the main roller during the compression stroke. As a result, the main roller was always in contact with the main cam track during normal operation.
Coaxial with the main rollers were smaller auxiliary rollers. During engine start or if a piston began to seize, the auxiliary roller would come into contact with the inner, auxiliary edge of the cam ring track. During the power stroke, if the cylinder lacked compression or there was too much friction between the piston and cylinder, the main roller would lose contact with the main cam track and the inner cam track would come into contact with the auxiliary roller. This action would result in a rattling nose emanating from the engine, alerting the (astute) operator that something was amiss.
A two-piston cam engine of Michel’s design was built in 1921 at the Krupp shipyard. For this engine, the cylinder group was stationary and the cam ring rotated. The engine had a bore and stroke of 5.9 in (150 mm), and the total displacement was 324 cu in (5.3 L). Reportedly, the engine produced 62.5 hp (46.6 kW) at 110 rpm. A larger two-piston engine followed with a 6.9 in (175 mm) bore and stroke; its total displacement was 514 cu in (8.4 L). This engine produced 120 hp (89.5 kW) at 110 rpm. Because of the six piston cycles per each revolution, it was noted that the Michel engine running at 110 rpm was equivalent to a standard engine operating at 660 rpm.
After encouraging results with his two-piston engine, Michel went on to build a three-cylinder engine. For this engine, the cylinder group rotated within the stationary cam ring. The two intake cylinders were spaced 120 degrees apart, but the exhaust cylinder was at slightly different angle to allow that cylinder’s piston to lead the others. This arrangement uncovered the exhaust port first and improved cylinder scavenging. The three-cylinder engine had a 6.5 in (165 mm) bore and a 6.3 in (160 mm) stroke. The engine’s total displacement was around 626 cu in (10.3 L), and it produced 250 hp (186 kW), which seems high. Michel’s basic design allowed the addition of multiple cylinder groups (or stars) to create engines of increased power.
Michel continued his development of the three-cylinder opposed-piston engine design and reverted back to the use of a crankshaft, albeit three of them. The three cast iron cylinders were arranged in a Y configuration, and all the cylinders were spaced 120 degrees apart. Air was fed into the upper two cylinders via ports in the cylinder walls. The exhaust ports were in the wall of the lower cylinder, and exhaust gases were expelled through the side of the lower cylinder bank. The lower piston had a 24 degree lead time over the upper pistons to ensure good cylinder scavenging. The exhaust ports alone were uncovered for 32.6 degrees of crankshaft rotation. For the next 76.3 degrees, both the exhaust and intake ports were uncovered, followed by another 15.8 degrees where only the intake ports were unobstructed.
The three-cylinder engine had a 15 to 1 compression ratio. The engine’s three pistons converged on a common combustion chamber where a fuel injector was positioned vertically between the upper two cylinders. The piston heads were specially designed to create a combustion space when the pistons came together. Fuel injection started 19 degrees before the exhaust piston reached top dead center and continued for 21 degrees. The engine’s configuration resulted in very efficient combustion due to the high degree of turbulence and thorough mixing of air and fuel.
All three crankshafts rotated in the same direction. There was an additional, projecting crank at the end of each crankshaft. Attached to this crank was a triangular casting that connected the crankshafts together at the rear of the engine. This triangular member drove the generator and the water, oil, and Bosch fuel injection pumps. The fuel injection pump was positioned in the upper V of the engine.
A scavenging air pump was situated at the rear of the engine. This air pump was a rectangular frame formed integral with the triangular member that joined the crankshafts. The air pump took advantage of the frame’s rotary motion. The rectangular frame was sealed except for strategically placed passageways. A slide valve formed a partition within the frame and was fixed so that it could only move up and down. As the engine ran, the space within the frame on either side of the slide valve partition alternately expanded and contracted, creating a pumping action. Air was fed from the slide valve at 21-25 psi (1.4-1.7 bar) to the cylinders via internal passageways. Power from the engine was taken from the lower crankshaft.
In the early 1930s, Michel relocated to Hamburg, Germany and built a few of his redesigned, three-cylinder, opposed-piston engines. Like the cam engine, the cylinder group was somewhat modular, and additional groups could be added to the design. The engine with the smallest cylinder size had a 1.9 in (47 mm) bore and a 3.1 in stroke (80 mm). This engine had four three-cylinder groups and a total displacement of around 102 cu in (1.7 L) from its 12 cylinders. It produced 60 hp (45 kW) at 2,000 rpm and weighed 616 lb (279 kg).
A larger three-cylinder engine was built with a 2.6 in (67 mm) bore and a 4.7 in stroke (116 mm). Each three-cylinder group would displace around 75 cu in (1.2 L) and had an output of around 45 hp. A one cylinder group and a four cylinder group were made. The four cylinder group engine had a displacement of 299 cu in (4.9 L). This engine produced 180 hp (134 kW) at 2,000 rpm and weighed 1,188 lb (539 kg).
Although the engine’s size was not stated, a Michel engine was extensively run in a truck testbed and reportedly gave good results. However, the engine never entered production. The Michel line of engines was supposed to be made under license in the United Kingdom by Tekon Development Ltd and called the Stellar. However, it does not appear that any engines were made.
*Please note, the Hermann Michel discussed in this article is not the Nazi war criminal with the same name.
– “Two-Stroke-Cycle Internal-Combustion Engine” US patent 1,603,969 by Hermann Michel (granted 19 October 1926)
– “Engine, and Particularly Internal Combustion Engine” US patent 1,568,684 by Hermann Michel (granted 5 January 1926)
– “Comments on Crankless Engine Types” NACA Technical Memorandum No. 462, May 1928 (Translated from “Motorwagen” 20 November 1927) 12.8 MB
– High Speed Diesel Engines by Arthur W. Judge (1941)
– The Modern Diesel fourth edition no date Illiffe & Sons Ltd
– New Motoring Encyclopedia (complete work 1937)
– Ungewöhnliche Motoren by Stefan Zima and Reinhold Ficht (2010)