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Racing Ahead – Innovative Knock Sensor Calibration Solution For F1 Race Car Team

In the dynamic world of Formula One racing, staying ahead of the competition requires not just skillful driving, but also cutting-edge technology. This success story revolves around a renowned engine manufacturer and F1 race car team that, even before the implementation of new FIA technical regulations in 2026, embarked on a journey to gain a competitive edge by testing knock sensors, a critical component of the Power Units, as early as 2023.

The FIA’s new regulations emphasize the use of Standard Supplier Power Unit Components (SSPUC), with specific guidelines for knock sensors outlined in 5.15.11. Seeking an efficient and accurate testing solution, the engine manufacturer turned to SPEKTRA as a company recommended by the sensor developer and manufacturer BOSCH.

What Is A Knock Sensor?

Knock sensor mounted on the SE-09 vibration exciter from SPEKTRA

Knock sensors are located on the outside of the engine block. Their purpose is to detect knock in all engine operating conditions to prevent engine damage. Each knock sensor detects the structure-borne vibrations of the engine block and converts them into electrical signals. These signals are filtered and evaluated in the ECU. The knock signal is assigned to the corresponding cylinder. If knock occurs, the ignition signal for that cylinder is adjusted until knock combustion is eliminated.

Meeting FIA’s Stringent Parameters For Knock Sensor Testing

The primary challenge faced by the customer is the need to develop a testing and calibration solution for knock sensors in strict adherence to the FIA regulations and to the sensor parameters as defined by the manufacturer. As per the newly published technical regulations for the FIA F1 World Championship starting from 2026, particularly 5.15.11 and SSPUC – 18.4.1, the customer must ensure that their knock sensors meet the specified standards. These regulations mandate a meticulous approach to testing, calibration, and performance evaluation of the knock sensors to guarantee compliance with the established guidelines.

The second challenge revolves around the specific parameters and conditions outlined by the knock sensor itself. The FIA regulations define knock sensors as SSPUC and how these must be installed, used and tested. In turn, the specification, parameters and test criteria are determined by the sensor manufacturer.  This meant stringent criteria requiring precise performance specifications for the knock sensor testing solution. Key parameters include:

Frequency Range: The FIA regulations require the knock sensors to be tested across a broad frequency range, reaching up to 30 kHz. This calls for a test and calibration system that allows precise vibration excitation of the knock sensor in a wide frequency range from 3 Hz to 30 kHz to test the properties of the sensor under conditions similar to those that occur during engine operation.

Mounting Torque: Another requirement is that the sensors must be mounted for operation with a tightening torque of up to 20 Nm. However, such high tightening torques are not compatible with the sensitive mechanics of a high-precision vibration exciter.

These specific and demanding parameters, especially the high tightening torque, place additional expectations related to the robustness of the exciter. The high-frequency vibration exciter has a ceramic vibration table whose thread can only withstand a fraction of the required tightening torque. For this reason, the exciter must be protected against overloading with a special mechanical adapter while mounting the sensor on the vibration table. Thanks to this modification, the exciter – originally designed for excitation of small test specimens up to 50 kHz – can also be used to test and calibrate the larger and more robust knock sensors.

From Compliance To Competitive Advantage

The customer required a testing and calibration system that could precisely meet the unique conditions stipulated by the FIA regulations… at performance parameters and under test conditions required as per definition by the sensor manufacturer, BOSCH. The goal was not only to ensure compliance but also the optimal performance and longevity of the knock sensors in the competitive realm of Formula One racing. The challenge for SPEKTRA was not merely to develop a generic testing system but to engineer a bespoke solution tailored to the intricate testing parameters and conditions.

Knock sensors are located on the outside of the engine block

The SPEKTRA engineers and experts proposed a tailored solution using their CS Q-LEAP calibration system , integrating an SE-09 high-frequency vibration exciter. To address the challenge of the high mounting torque, SPEKTRA designed and manufactured a special mechanical adapter specifically for knock sensors. This custom knock sensor test bench surpassed the customer’s expectations, fulfilling all testing requirements and ensuring the sensors’ integrity.

Moreover, the CS Q-LEAP systems offer flexibility and scalability. While initially designed for knock sensor testing, the system can be easily expanded to accommodate other sensors and measurement equipment, saving costs and ensuring adaptability for future needs. This adaptability is a testament to our commitment to innovation in the field of measuring and testing systems.

Future-Proof System For Knock Sensor Testing

With the innovative calibration system and specially engineered knock sensor test bench, the engine manufacturer successfully conducts comprehensive tests, ensuring compliance with FIA regulations and gaining valuable insights into knock sensor performance. The collaboration with SPEKTRA not only provided a solution for immediate testing needs, but also laid the foundation for future advancements in sensor testing and calibration.

In a sport where milliseconds matter, the SPEKTRA contribution to enhancing the precision and reliability of knock sensor testing underscores its role as a pioneer in delivering cutting-edge solutions for the automotive industry.

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