Science

How To Fix A Fiery Ignition Spark Engine Using Musical Theory

Jeff Bizbub spends his days as a GE engineer, but he also has a degree in music theory. And that works just fine for him, because he’s been able to use his artistic know-how to troubleshoot problems in machines.

The ignition spark engines he works with are very large — they’re nearly 11 inches around and they produce 4800hp. But they’re so big that gas is sometimes ignited along their walls rather than at the centre where the sparkplug is. If that happens, flames zip around the machine, crashing into each other and make the walls vibrate, producing a hallmark knocking sound, which can severely harm the engine.

So, to fix the problem, Jeff put his musically trained ear to work. He told GE Reports:

“I put my ear against the cylinder and could hear even with earmuffs on the multiple frequencies inside,” he says. “I knew that there was a centre frequency related to bore size, but as with any instrument you’ll have multiple vibrations that will occur.”

He got his hands on a 16-channel digital recorder, a suite of music software to monitor the frequency of the noises, and a 64-band equaliser to track the spectrum and frequency of all that ratchet. Along with a team of researchers, he wrote some industrial programs and algorithms to analyse the engines. Now his factory uses all these tools to identify problems in each and every machine. There was a fun by-product too — Jeff made these sounds into a series compositions, one of which you can hear in the above clip. [GE Reports]

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