"Wear is even a problem in the limited lift classes. In that situation, you are trying to open the valve as quickly as possible, hold it near max lift for as long as possible, and then close the valve at the last minute. What you wind up with is a cam lobe with corners on both sides of the cam lobe, and it's those corners that can be damaged under harsh conditions.
"So, what we really are trying to do is keep those from wearing. There are two solutions that can decrease wear-increase the cam's hardness and increase its lubricity-and nitriding the cam does both things.
"The type of nitriding we use is called a plasma nitride. The other method is salt bath nitriding, but that produces only a very thin case, sometimes less than 0.001 inch. Plasma nitriding can produce thick case depths, around 0.01 inch, which is ten times the capability of a salt bath.
"What you are doing is putting the camshaft in a big vacuum vessel. You take most of the air out and pump in nitrogen. Then you put the camshaft and the walls of the container to different potential, like across a battery. The nitrogen cooks up to itself and forms needles. Those nitrogen needles are rapidly accelerated and then crashed into the surface of the camshaft. It's a lot like shot-peening, except instead of shot you are bombarding the surface of the cam with nitrogen, which imbeds itself into the material's atomic structure.
"Nitrogen behaves a lot like carbon. It gives the cam a very hard, slick surface. It is almost like putting little ball bearings along the surface of the cam lobes. This means the camshaft is going to last much longer. Engine builders can go with more aggressive lobes they couldn't use before, and you are going to decrease wear tremendously. It's not twice as long or three times as long for the typical cam versus a nitrided cam; it's 10 or 12 times more life span. Getting a cam nitrided will cost around $150, but given the benefits, I think it's a very cost-efficient upgrade."