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The merits of the common rail fuel injection system architecture have been recognized since the development of the diesel engine. Early researchers, including Rudolf Diesel, worked with fuel systems that contained some of the essential features of modern common rail diesel fuel injection systems. For example, in 1913, a patent for a common rail fuel injection system with mechanically actuated injectors was issued to Vickers Ltd. of Great Britain . Around the same time, another patent was issued in the United States to Thomas Gaff for a fuel system for a direct cylinder injection spark ignition engine using electrically actuated solenoid valves. The fuel was metered by controlling the length of time the valves were open . The idea of using an electrically actuated injection valve on a diesel engine with a common rail fuel system was developed by Brooks Walker and Harry Kennedy in the late 1920s and applied to a diesel engine by Atlas-Imperial Diesel Engine Company of California in the early 1930s .
Work on modern day common rail fuel injection systems was pioneered in the 1960s by the Societe des Procedes Modernes D’Injection (SOPROMI) . However, it would still take 2-3 decades before regulatory pressure would spur further development and the technology would mature to be commercially viable. The SOPROMI technology was evaluated by CAV Ltd. in the early 1970s and was found to provide little benefit over existing P-L-N systems in use at the time. Considerable work was still required to improve the precision and capability of solenoid actuators.
Further development of diesel common rail systems began in earnest in the 1980s. By 1985, Industrieverband Fahrzeugbau (IFA) of the former East Germany developed a common rail injection system for their W50 truck, but the prototype never entered series production and the project was abandoned a couple of years later . Around the same time, General Motors was also developing a common rail system for application to their light-duty IDI engines . However, with the cancellation of their light-duty diesel program in the mid-1980s, further development was stopped.
A few years later, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a number of development projects were initiated by engine OEMs and later taken up by fuel injection equipment manufacturers:
Further information on the history of common rail systems can be found in the literature .
The aim of these development programs started in the late 1980s/early 1990s was to develop a fuel system for the future diesel powered passenger car. Early on in these efforts, it was apparent that future diesel cars would utilize a direct injection combustion system due to the clear advantage in fuel economy and power density relative to the then prevalent indirect injection combustion system. The objectives of the developments included driving comfort comparable to that of gasoline fueled cars, compliance with future emission limits and improved fuel economy. Three groups of fuel system architectures were under consideration: (1) an electronically controlled distributor pump, (2) an electronically controlled unit injector (EUI or pump-nozzle unit) and (3) a common rail (CR) injection system. While the efforts around each of these approaches lead to commercial fuel systems for production vehicles, the common rail system provided a number of advantages and would eventually come to dominate as the primary fuel system used in light-duty vehicles. These advantages included:
Figure 1. Relationship between Injection Pressure and Engine Speed in Different Injection Systems