Saturday, November 04, 2006

Terminology and Confusion, part 2 (OLvsCL)

Open Loop vs Closed loop tuning is another huge source of misunderstanding. Partially because it's just few terms out of a huge body of Control Theory (PID also comes from the same area), without understanding the rest of the principles and theory behind it. Another reason is because of how people use it, it's almost always referred to as 'OLSD', as if it was one thing, which it is not.

Open Loop and Closed Loop are just a methods of control of fueling. OL is basically a system with no feedback. Think of a sprinkler system that sprays the lawn whether it needs it or not. To contrast that, you have CL--a system which takes the output if its own operation as in input for the next round of calculations. In practical terms, it would be a sprinkler system with a ground wetness sensor, and only activating the sprinkler system if the ground is dry. The good part is not wasting water when the lawn doesn't need any more. The bad part is that we actually need sensors, threshold levels, hysteresis models, and other scientific junk, just to keep the damn lawn from drying out. This is definitely a place to consider effort vs benefit.

So what does it mean for a car? The main benefit of OL control is the direct relationship between what you tell it to do and what it does. It will do exactly what you tell it to, which is good if you tell it the right thing, and potentially catastrophic if you don't. That's why most tuning is done in OL--you want to see exactly how much airflow (MAF or VE) and which commanded AFR (OLFA or PE table) yields a particular AFR. This is the entire logic behind tuning--once commanded and resulting PE agree 100%, you can back calculate the airflow from displacement, pulse widths, injector flow rate, RPM, MAP, IAT and AFR. This is how you obtain airflow characteristics of an engine, no matter if it's with MAF or SD approaches.

Once you obtained that airflow characteristic, you could continue running in OL, and all the environmental changes would show up as change in airflow numbers. In SD, VE table is calibrated in what I call GMVE units, which take temperature and barometric pressure into account. This means that if that pressure or temperature changes, it is easily recalculated to current conditions. In MAF mode it's even simpler, more airmass cools the hot element of the MAF sensor better, automatically giving you a new, adjusted reading. Both models work just in any condition. (this is an answer to all the 'do I have to retune for weather?' questions that show up at least 3-4 times a week on forums)

So if it works so well, then why would we ever need CL one might ask? Doing math for all these models is great, everything agrees, but in practice, things like airflow measurement, or air fuel ratio measurement are an inherently difficult problem. Tuners drive around and scan and know what to adjust when. Normal people dont do that, they hop in and just want it to work, without scanning, analysis, and reflashing their car's computer. Thus, CL became that automatic tuner. It looks at data from different sensors, and if it consistently points at a new better setting, it adjusts. It's a perpetual feedback loop, not so commonly refered to as the Closed Loop. This model of course has its limits. While it will adjust to things like weather changes, or driving through the Rockies, it will not adjust for racing camshafts, huge heads, changes of displacement, and other significant changes to the airflow. Car's computer is willing to adjust, but also must be able to detect hardware failures. To a computer, airflow reading way out of its usual range is flagged as an abnormal event that should be looked at, while to a human it just might mean we put some heads on it. Computer has no way of knowing which one it is, we must tell it.

If you read and understood the last two paragraphs, you might have noticed, that a human tuner, and CL mechanisms (fuel trims) have the same function: to observe and adjust airflow changes. If you think about it, what we usually call the OL tuning method, is really CL--except that the mechanisms doing the adjustments are not automatic and computerized, but human, and done outside of the system.

This brings me to conclusions: in part 1 of this writeup we learned that MAF mode doesn't really work off MAF alone, and now we learned that Open Loop is a human powered Closed Loop.
I think what happened here is that we got lost somewhere between lack of technical understanding, and the traditional American tendency to polarize and zealotize (is this even a word?) concepts. This isn't your usual Coke vs Pepsi, Chevy vs Ford, Republicans vs Democrats war of ideologies. Reality is complex, and simple models are just too simple to describe it. That's why when we want a flexible system we end up doing hybrids, as there usually is no 'one size fits all' solution.

So the lesson from this is to learn, explore, and never be afraid to look at an alternative solution, as in more cases than not, you'll both be right and wrong at the same time, just for different set of parameters. There are very few absolute rights and wrongs, but if you are comfortable with all the alternatives, then at least you have a good chance of picking the best solution for your application, your purpose, your environment. If you're a tuner that always wants to run on the rugged edge and get as close as possible to 100% of potential, you probably want OL-SD. For a daily driver that doesn't get scanned too often, CL-MAF or CL-SD are the way to go. If you're bracket racer and you want as much consistency and control as possible, OL-MAF will probably yield you the desired effect.

Don't be a close minded zealot--just because a buddy with a fast ride told you something, doesn't mean it's going to work for you.