Lobes are Key The key parts of any camshaft are the lobes. As the camshaft spins, the lobes open and close the intake and exhaust valves in time with the motion of the piston. It turns out that there is a direct relationship between the shape of the cam lobes and the way the engine performs in different speed ranges.
To understand why this is the case, imagine that we are running an engine extremely slowly -- at just 10 or 20 revolutions per minute (RPM) -- so that it takes the piston a couple of seconds to complete a cycle. It would be impossible to actually run a normal engine this slowly, but let's imagine that we could. At this slow speed, we would want cam lobes shaped so that:
- Just as the piston starts moving downward in the intake stroke (called top dead center, or TDC), the intake valve would open. The intake valve would close right as the piston bottoms out.
- The exhaust valve would open right as the piston bottoms out (called bottom dead center, or BDC) at the end of the combustion stroke, and would close as the piston completes the exhaust stroke.
This setup would work really well for the engine as long as it ran at this very slow speed. But what happens if you increase the RPM? Let's find out.