After 187 days working on our Volvo D3-110, HAS A MIRACLE OCCURRED?. But I have some questions!...

Porter McRoberts

Dear Amelgroup:

It's Porter, S/V IBIS Amel 54-152 again.  May I please impose on you a few questions, if you’d be so kind, regarding our engine issue? We’ve had a MAJOR breakthrough.

As some of you may know we have been wrestling with a Volvo D3-110 engine issue for 6+ months here in Panama.  It has been a very long, and complicated ordeal, detailed in a chronology of events included below.  

The breakthrough:
After 187 days in Panama working on this issue and essentially a completely new engine: new blocks, valves, pistons, computers, wiring harnesses, rings, turbo, rails, injectors, high pressure pump, filters, impellers, timing chain etc… At the end of the last sea trial with Volvo, the local rep realized that the aftercooler had not been secured and thus he tightened it down.  (I had mentioned to him that the engine also had great RPM variability, and he went looking for the cause.)  He tightened the bolts and the variability ceased.  We were heading back in from the trial, heads low, after making only 2100 RPM at WOT, even with new fuel system and bypassing the fuel filters with fresh filtered diesel in a jug. They then inadvertently broke the diesel return line to the fuel tank. Returning the next day they replaced the line and we cleaned the bilge.  YESTERDAY: I have the rebuilt H6 Autoprop back and changed out the supplied fixed prop for the beautiful working Autoprop.  I fire up the engine at the dock just to rattle the prop and reseat it.  I put the Volvo in gear and run it up to… 3150RPM?!? sustained! with an amazing amount of thrust and water shooting out the back.  Docklines straining!  Purrs like a kitten?!?  No more whooshing sound or a RPM limit at 2100, with still 40% of the throttle throw arc left—without the expected increase in power and rpm.  RATHER: The throttle lever continues on, adding power smoothly and effectively till the lever is horizontal and we’re spinning 3100+ (in gear!)

The questions are:

  1. Can an engine with only 25 hours on it exhibit a low compression test and still be “normal”, i.e. safe with a normal life expectancy? (the cylinders’ compression were all within about 3-5% of each other) Does the engineer’s explanation hold water? (See next paragraph below)
  2. Can an after cooler leak affect compression testing? (I can’t think how it would)
  3. Can an after cooler leak completely explain the situation? (if the fresh turbo gasses are just pouring into the engine compartment, then its like not having a turo, right?)
  4. Would you take this engine across the pacific?
  5. What more testing needs to be done to confirm readiness (were planning a 5-7 day sail and motor around Islas de las Perlas)?
  6. More of a comment: If the after cooler was the cause of low RPM and the bolts had been tightened when they assembled the engine in Panama, I would have never gotten a compression test, and we’d be in the Gambier’s right now.

The above questions arise from the condensed events:
Volvo D3-110 on an Amel 54.  New block, completed with valves, pistons, header, long block etc installed in September.  Engine fails to make RPM above 1800.  Local Volvo performs compression test: all five cylinders test around 19.5-20.5  Normal is printed at 23-30 Bar.  I call Volvo and speak with the engineer who designed the Volvo D3-110. He says, “low compression like that is normal given the circumstances, new engine without  seating of piston rings, you wont see normal compression until you have at least 500 hours or more.”  Next interesting comment: “Many diesel companies do not even publish compression values, only normative values for cylinders relationship to each other in terms of compression %.” Only 2 interpretations of his statements existed: 1) that’s BS, and he’s simply placating the situation, 2) he knows his engine.  5 compression tests were performed all with a topped up starting battery, all compression tests gave the same results.

Many many thanks for all and any thoughts!

Porter McRoberts
Vista Mar, Panama
S/V IBIS, Amel 54-152

Below is a (still condensed) summary of events:

April 2017, We buy S/V IBIS. Engine 1100hrs at purchase of our Amel 54 sailboat we replace with new long block, injectors and a variety of other items at the suggestion of Volvo, following the prescribed break-in procedures and early oil changes etc.  Long block was replaced (19,000+Euro) Volvo Martinique identified loss of compression in the cylinders, and engine smoke at the engine survey.
September 2017, 1500 engine hours, Injectors fail and I refurbish them (despite being under warranty)
May 2018, Travel, motor and sail without issue, save routine maintenance until arrival in Colon, Panama when a “engine fault” light appears on the dash. ~1800hrs.  I ask 2 local mechanics in Colon, Panama  (Northern Caribbean Panama)  have a look.  Neither can identify the issue as the fault requires a Volvo specific VODIA computer, of which only Volvo approved shops have.  The only Volvo dealer is in Panama City, and thus we need to transit the canal to find the appropriate mechanics.
June 8th, we’ve obtained transit date and transit the canal to meet CDM of Panama City.
June 10th, we meet with CDM (Commerciales de Motores) who come to La Playita Marina to evaluate.  They find outdated software, and a Boost pressure sensor failure and tell me, we need a software update (and now a new computer, because our computer was ruined with the attempted CDM update.)  
Week of June 10th While attempting to update computer computer is ruined. We wait 2 weeks for new computer to be sent to panama. (fed-ex is overnight but costs 40$ more (i later learn from a local employee))  I ask another mechanic recommended by the marina: his assessment: boost pressor sense is failing because there is oil on the sensor, which should not be there.  I communicate this to CDM.  They refuse to find reason for oil, stating computer is the problem.
July 2018, New Computer arrives and they install but then find that the wiring harness has somehow failed.  I must buy new wiring harness. Also Boost Pressure Sensor still bad.  Need to order new of both.  2 weeks pass. (fed-ex is overnight but costs 40$ more (i  again later learn from a local employee))  Both arrive.  They install both and tell me the engine is fixed, it is safe to continue on to Tahiti.  
July 2018, I test motor by motoring to local islands a few hours away, on way back, sensor light and alarm goes off.  We motor back with reduced rpm  
a week or so later technicians come to boat: (New) boost pressor sensor has failed.  They determine oil has traveled from crankcase housing, up breather tube, through turbo to the aftercooler and recoated the new BPS with oil.  Carlos Corgo happens to be in Panama.  He comes to boat, at this time it is determined that the replacement long lock has failed (LB#2)  It is under warranty and Volvo will replace. Long block failure is the reason for BPS failure. Replacement set up for August, must return back to Panama City.
August 2018 We sail back to Panama City.  I communicate engine realignment procedure from AMEL to mechanics and give them the 30 step worksheet.  Haul boat out of water, take out engine, 2 days later return engine.  Long Block #3 allegedly installed.  But LB#3 has same serial number as LB#2.  The mechanics, whom I choose to trust, tell me that the belt cover from LB2 was used on LB3, because the cover on 3 had broken in transit.    Motor reinstalled with CDM mechanics confirming realignment procedure. We sea trial LB#3 with CDM mechanics: we note new occurrences of the following: motor surging, and abnormally low RPM and vibration.  Mechanics and Corgo argue: must be the propeller.  I note to mechanics propeller is clean and OEM to the boat and motor.  (I later Call AMEL (boat manufacturer who tells me both props were picked by Volvo France for the boat and are OEM and are to spec))
With long block replaced, and boat blessed by mechanics, safe to travel to Tahiti, we then retest by sailing to local islands.  On way to local islands, a terrible noise occurs en route with violent vibration and engine surges violently, changing, by itself, 500-1000 rpm rapidly.  I take video.  Next day I call CDM. and Corgo: they suggest prop still the issue.  I call AMEL France.  I change prop to unused, OEM, Volvo selected spare prop with fixed blades.  Symptoms are mildly better, as surging less violent, but vibration is horrible, Also RPM wandering-variability unchanged.  Corgo continues to blame drivetrain.  I do test at anchor: Engine in neutral: 3200 rpm (the suggested), Engine with gears engaged but without prop: 3190rpm., Engine with new prop 1800 rpm. This test exonerates the drivetrain.
September 4th, We motor and sail back to Vista Mar Marina with great vibration and engine RPM variability.  Corgo blames the weight of the boat.
September 4th week Sea trial absent 1300kg fuel, water and spare parts.  Boat 1/4 kt faster (9.2 to 9.5kts) but 1800rpm unchanged from loaded boat.
Sept 26.  CDM mechanics return to boat to do realignment procedure.  In starting procedure find the drive shaft of the boat broken, and the coupling broken, and the motor out of alignment by >3mm (.025mm noted as maximum) .  CDM blames previous installation of motor ((done at Volvo Martinique) and 10,000 miles ago with vibration free service.)  CDM and Corgo then tells me they are unwilling to help in any form or fashion.  I write Volvo with the help of Amel School President, Admiral Bill Rouse.  Volvo responds by assuming responsibility for the installation and commit to reimburse me the costs of new shaft, new coupling, and labor. (I still need to submit the costs)
Sept 27th-October 12th  I hire a new engineer since volvo/CDM refuses to fix the drive train damage they caused. With new engineer, mill new parts out of steel, order and receive and install OEM coupling and new drive shaft to AMEL OEM specs.
October 15th Seatrial with engineer.  Engine, Transmission, and Driveshaft at 1000rpm can now balance a penlight.  But this seatrial reveals top RPM at 1500 before engine faults yet again reducing WOT rpm to 700rpm.  CDM contacted. They setup visit for Oct 19.  
October 18th CDM returns to boat.  Luis, lead technician runs a series of 2 compression tests on the motor.  I pay engineer to be present.  CDM finds the long block, LB#3 (with 25 hours) has failed.  All cylinders fail: (24-31 bar listed in manual at starter speed.) Results by Cylinder:bar——Cyl 1:19.3bar, Cyl 2:20.7bar , Cyl 3:20.7bar, Cyl 4:19bar  Cyl 5:19.3bar.  All cylinders are performing at 62-80% of recommended pressures.  CDM repeats test and finds same, confirmatory and surprising, results.
October 22nd, 2018 Volvo/CDM suggests they order new injectors and injection system.  (Dispite low compression test) November 19-21 is given as expected arrival date. 
October 29th At the suggestion of a former patient who has been following our trip I reach out to Ron Huibers, president of Volvo USA.  He communicates back, and like a light switch things start happening much faster.  

Nov 5-9 week Volvo USA comes to boat, replace Injectors and rail: RPM increases from 1800 to 2100rpm (3000-3100 Normal) on .  Fail to repeat compression test.

Nov 12-16 week.  Volvo sends back CDM to repeat Compression test 9as doesn’t believe values) Now with Volvo specific tool and standard tool and 2 different gauges CDM repeats Tests.  ALL CONFIGURATIONS confirm original low compression test with 2 more repetitions.  Engine warm, battery charged etc.  Volvo suggests a 4th long block. I refuse as we cross the 6 month mark waiting for Volvo.  The only reasonable solution is a new model engine.  
Nov 19-23 week  Volvo USA still cannot believe the compression test.  Sends another mechanic and CDM back to the boat to complete a 5th compression test and change the high pressure fuel pump, and rail and test the engine with direct access fuel (without using the existing filtration system and boat fuel)  No change on 5th compression test, no change on sea trial or engine performance with fuel bypass test. (however, on the way back to dock, the local CDM mechanic notices the after cooler is loose and tightens it. Engine RPM variability goes away.)  Mechanics inadvertently break the diesel return line from injectors to tank and spill out a gallon of diesel in the bilge.  They return next day to clean the bilge and replace the diesel return line.
Nov 21- Leon Baylor informs me no new H model D3 exist.  March 2019, will be the delivery date.  I consider buying a Beta.  
Nov 26th: Engine miracle occurs.  First time get 3100 RPM at WOT.  What’s different from previous 2100RPM/WOT trial: Fixed prop changed to rebuilt Autoprop, fuel return line from injectors back to fuel tank replaced, after cooler screws tightened and after cooler now tight. Also trial performed at the dock: we do seatrial today (27th).

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