Vacuum Insulated Cryogenics, Plasma films and Heat barriers might sound like science fiction, but they’re facts of life at Hekimian Racing Engines.
Heat treating material to make it stronger has been around for a long time, but what the early pioneers didn’t know was that exposing materials to extreme cold temperatures could have the same and even far greater effect. Liquid Nitrogen and the means to handle it were in short supply back then.
Enter “Real” Cryogenics, a process in which material such as steel are exposed to severe cold, down to the minus 320 degrees F to make them stronger. The closer you get to absolute zero (-459F) the better, but once you cross that line of –460F, a point of severely diminishing returns, everything explodes.
However, “correctly” apply Cryogenics technology to engine components and they’ll last three to five times longer and in some cases even longer, says Gregg Hekimian of Hekimian Racing Engines in Watertown, Massachusetts. A Physics Engineer, Hekimian worked for the United States Navy in “Black Room” operations for it’s Intercontinental Fleet Ballistic Missile Program (Trident), before starting his company 11 years ago.
The Business grew from a partnership in Drag Racing, a Top Alcohol Dragster, and toured Nationally. Hekimian, primarily a one man show working in a 1,200 square-foot shop---builds between 25 and 60 engines per year with prices ranging from $7,000 to $135,000.
“How many engines I build depends on the economy, but currently the business is now picking up to the point that I’m up to mid-night 6-days a week getting work out.”
Hekimian builds engines for all Motorsports including: Drag Racing, Street Rodding, Circle Track, Road Racing, Marine Poker runs, Pleasure cruise, Truck pulling, Off Road and the list keeps climbing.
Hekimian Racing Engines builds from Chevy, Ford, Mopar, Olds, Pontiac, Toyota and Nissans just to name a few. Horsepower ranges are from 400 hp to 6,000 hp. These engines are both naturally aspirated and Forced induction. “Fuels we use are from 93 octane to 121 Race fuel, Alcohol and Nitromethane.”
The companies Racing Engines are always built with blocks, crankshafts, cylinder heads, pistons and more (“anything that has a wear process,”) says Hekimian, that have been treated in a vacuum-insulated Cryogenic chamber. Cryogenic treatment of parts in Hekimian Engines that don’t already come with it, is offered for an additional $1,000 above each engine’s price.
Hekimian calls vacuum-insulated Cryogenics “the real Cryogenics”, and he says there are two primary keys to the success of the process. The first is the design of the Cryogenic Chamber, also called the Cryogenic Processor. Hekimian’s close friend and business associate Dr. Jeff Levine (MIT Physicist) patent it.
The chambers proprietary shape (Cylindrical) optimizes even dispersal of the –320 F temperature. Though liquid nitrogen is used to drop the temperature in the chamber, it never actually touches the metal components being treated.
The second key to success is the rate at which the components are cooled, brought back to room temperature and then tempered to + 300 F, then back down to room. This process is all within a 4-day period. “We go down slowly, so many degrees per minute, and then hold it at –320 F so the Atoms can align and eliminate all the microscopic voids which are in the component. Then we start coming back slowly all the way up to +300 F for tempering. Then slowly back down to room temperature.”
“It changes the metal completely, if I could use the term for going to steel to Kryptonite”, he continues. “ I will say this though, the better the metal the less it will improve, because of the initial manufacturing process.”
If not properly applied, Cryogenics can do more harm than good, say’s Hekimian. The process can produce what he calls “latent damages”, structural problems in treating metal that, though not immediately apparent, will reveal themselves in an engine’s life cycle. But with “real Cryogenics” all the flaws are taken out.
Another intriguing application Hekimian employs for certain engine components such as wrist pins, intake valves, valve spring retainers and other micro finished components, is a Chemical Vapor Deposition thin film which is actually grown onto the metal surface as part of the integrity of the metal itself. This tough film, says Hekimian, makes scratching or nicking of components more difficult.
The builder also uses what he calls “High Level Coatings,” a type of dry film with a very low coefficient of friction – meaning it’s slippery – on gears, timing chains, engine bearings, rings, and every area where engine wear takes place. This film reduces parasitic losses from friction. “Bringing down friction is directly proportional to lowering oil and water temperatures as well. Not counting the longevity you will have with parts life.”
In areas of an engine exposed to particularly high heat, such as exhaust ports, piston crowns and combustion chambers take on yet another form of coating, known as “Thermal Barriers”. These Thermal Energies (TE) that are lost into the engine causes a massive interruption in the pulse wave which is needed to velocitize spent gases. A proper expenditure of gases means simply more torque and horsepower.
Example: As a wave of exhaust gases flow through a port or exhaust header, it pulsates like a heart would pump blood through your arteries and ventricles. With Thermal Barriers, the heat will be contained in the ports, which in turn will exit out faster, basic laws of Physics. These same Barriers are used in the Fighter Jets after-burner chambers.
“Our piston ring program is taking off. We now offer special rings for many applications with thin films for better sealing and very low friction; this is a window in engine building, which still needs more research.”
“Cylinder heads are another big challenge. But with Profiler Cylinder Heads on board and their very sophisticated designs brings the power levels up even more.”
Not everything in the Hekimian engine program is so hi-tech, though all components, including superchargers from The Blower Shop, Demon or DaVinci Carburetors, Hilborn EFI systems and HRE custom dual swap camshafts play a big role in reliability.
Hekimian emphasizes that sheer horsepower without durability is of little long-term value, and he builds his engines with that in mind.
“I sell reliability and power together,” he says. “Reliability has to be there.”