History of the Flowbench

An air flowbench is essentially a device that measures the resistance of a test piece – a cylinder head, manifold, carburetor, throttle body, exhaust systems – to flow air. Many different designs and models are on the market today that allow for comparison of flow results before and after changes in the flow path occur. Here’s a look at the history of this device.

Flowbenches and airflow data have been a part of the internal combustion engine development cycle for design, research and development for many years.

  • 1900s – Some of the first engine airflow studies, using some type of flow testing, occurred.
  • 1960s – Starting to study engine airflow and flowbench information and the relationship to performance in the racing industry

The foundry process and the associated compromises actually controlled most early cylinder head and manifold designs. These manufacturing compromises drove most designs – not the technical aspects or specific airflow requirements.

When SuperFlow Corporation introduced the first portable flowbench to the engine builders of the world in 1972, airflow science came to the kitchen tables, shops and garages everywhere. More elaborate and complex benches had been around for some time when the first SuperFlow model was available, but never in such an easy-to-use configuration. As market demand and understanding grew, many larger models were made available as racers began to compare flow information. Thousands of benches are in use every day, and engine component airflow technology is growing rapidly.

The first airflow benches in use at the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) level were expensive, cumbersome and complex machines. They were applied in the late 1960s and early 1970s for some specific engine airflow development work.

  • Oldsmobile and Pontiac – used flowbench-guided designs early on
  • Chevrolet – did not have a flowbench lab in use until the 1970s
  • American Motors – used flowbench-guided cylinder head designs in the early 1970s
  • Chrysler – adapted a flow lab from elements that were used in air filter work, and the lab was developed in parallel with their introduction of the 426 Hemi engine
  • Ford Motor Company – flow labs date to the mid-1960s, where they supported their winning LeMans racing effort with their GT40 racing vehicles

Some of the OEM, specialty-engine manufacturers and professional race teams are now using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) to assist in Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and flowbench-driven designs. Many of the OEM have abandoned their in-house airflow benches and outsource much of their airflow development testing. As a result, some well-established shops using SuperFlow or other flowbenches typically get involved in OEM development contracts because the programs are more time and cost-effective.

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