A desire to understand

He used to do it in his father’s garage, but now he does it in his own: Volker Zeitz is passionate about restoring old vehicles to their former glory. After studying industrial engineering, he noticed that he still lacked a real understanding of technology. So he went even further by completing a master’s degree and enrolling on a doctoral programme at the University of Magdeburg’s Institute for Mobile Systems.

Warm up the engine more quickly

It has got dark outside. The car passes the train station on its way from the University of Magdeburg to the workshop on an industrial estate. Used-car dealers stand around in the twilight negotiating with one another. An unsurfaced dirt track with large puddles leads to a long building with a row of garage doors. Volker Zeitz drives unerringly towards one of the doors and gets out. ‘I spend virtually every free minute here,’ he says emphatically. By way of proof, he removes large tarpaulins from the automobiles that he restores here: a 1986 Mercedes 420 SEC, a 1994 Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo and an English TVR Cerbera V8 with a 4.5-litre engine from 1998. ‘There is still a great deal to do on this one here,’ he says, pointing to the Cerbera. ‘It may be powerful, but the English didn’t exactly use the most reliable technology.’ Zeitz works on the vehicles and engines as nothing more than a hobby. His full-time job is at the Institute for Mobile Systems (IMS), part of the Otto von Guericke University in Magdeburg.

Volker Zeitz commutes between a workshop he rents and the library at the University of Magdeburg

‘This man has petrol pulsing through his veins,’ warned his doctoral supervisor, Professor Hermann Rottengruber, who is head of the IMS. He knew all about the passion of his charge, who started working on an FVV project at the IMS as a scientific assistant following his postgraduate studies in mechanical engineering. During the project, Zeitz spent two years simulating the heat transfer in combustion engines immediately after being started. When the research project was extended in 2012, Zeitz opted to pursue a doctoral degree as part of the FVV project entitled ‘Engine heat transfer’. ‘We are primarily concerned with developing an independent, validated simulation model that records and analyses the thermal flows in the warm-up phase of a combustion engine,’ explains Zeitz. Although the major manufacturers already possess such models, in the interests of joint industrial research we are also giving small and medium-sized companies the opportunity to optimise their products by means of simulation.’

Yet Zeitz not only works on simulation models as part of the project, but also on a test bench, on which he has attached around 70 temperature sensors to an engine. Pressure sensors and water flow rate sensors also provide him with important measurement data. ‘Recording the measurements on the test bench will help us to validate the simulation models. We want to use the research project to answer the question as to whether the model really does simulate properly,’ explains Zeitz. To this end, he varies the operating conditions and employs meas-ures that accelerate the warm-up phase. In this regard, he primarily has the oil circulation system in his sights: ‘Cold oil is viscous and generates more friction than warm oil. But high friction causes energy loss, leading to higher CO2 emissions. So the aim is to warm up the engine more quickly.’ Starting the coolant pump later, for example, or improving heat transfer within the engine can help. Zeitz also uses an electric auxiliary heater at his test stand, which preheats the oil before the engine is started. This allows him to monitor the effectiveness of the measures that he has previously simulated.

It was all a little more relaxed on another project in which Zeitz was involved during his student days: the Formula Student competition. He had learned how to weld during a work placement at Daimler. Now he was building the frame with his fellow students, welding on the wheel suspensions, adjusting motorcycle engines and fitting them in the racing ve-hicles. ‘That was a fantastic experience,’ he says with a slight ironic tone in his voice. ‘You listen to all the theory in your first lectures, apply it – and it doesn’t work.’ Yet this is precisely what fascinated him: failing time after time and searching again for a solution that worked. ‘It was a nice feeling overcoming the defeats.’ Other Formula Student racing teams share the same attitude. For instance, there are special T-shirts that some teams wear when the computer-designed racing vehicle actually breaks down on the racetrack. They bear the legend: ‘It worked in the CAD.’

Keep searching for a new solution

A lack of apprehension about trying new endeavours also led Zeitz to continue his studies on a postgraduate course after being awarded his first degree in industrial engineering. ‘My final year project at BMW was concerned with cost cutting. As I went around the different departments getting ideas from the engineers, I noticed how complex and fascinating the actual development work on components was. It then became clear to me that I wanted to understand how vehicles and engines work; I wanted to make the connections.’ So he enrolled at the University of Magdeburg, which was one of the first universities in Germany to offer a postgraduate master’s degree course in mechanical engineering.

It should be said, however, that the foundations for his interest in engines were laid much earlier. Even as an eight-year-old boy, Zeitz, who grew up in the district of Köpenick in Berlin, was often transfixed as he watched his older friend tinker with Trabants. Later in his father’s garage he would repair Simson mopeds, to which hardly anyone paid attention following the dissolution of East Germany. With both degrees and a doctorate under his belt, Zeitz will eventually move on to new horizons, although he is not yet revealing where that will be. He is, however, certain of one thing: ‘I only did all of this studying so that I could ultimately dabble with technical solutions.’

Photo Credit: FVV | Rui Camilo

The people behind modern research

This article is from our 60th anniversary book »PRIMEMOVERS«. Technology journalists Johannes Winterhagen and Laurin Paschek provide on 200 pages an insight into the work of 24 leading people from industry and research who are passionately pursuing their ideas for greater efficiency and fewer harmful emissions from combustion engines and turbomachinery. The book can be ordered at the price of 39,90 Euros from the VDMA-Verlag GmbH. It is available in English and German.

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Volker Zeitz

Zeitz is a native of Berlin and grew up in the south-eastern district of Köpenick. After leaving school, Zeitz initially studied industrial engineering between 2002 and 2006 at the HTW Berlin. During his final year project at the BMW Group, he made a decision to continue his studies, starting with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, which he successfully concluded in 2009 at the Otto von Guericke University in Magdeburg. He then took up a post as a scientific assistant at the Institute for Mobile Systems, writing his doctoral thesis under the supervision of the head of the institute, Professor Hermann Rottengruber. Zeitz loves restoring old, powerful vehicles in his spare time.

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