Every year some of the smartest minds in the engine building business gather for the Advanced Engineering Technology Conference (or simply AETC for those who don't feel like spitting out that mouthful every time they say the name) to discuss the latest advancements in engine building.

For the last several years, the AETC has held its three-day gathering in Orlando, Florida, directly before the PRI tradeshow. It's always an interesting conference with lots of great information traded and freely discussed, but this year the featured topic was "Circle Track Racing Engine Technology" which made it a can't-miss for the Circle Track staff.

The standard protocol for the meeting is to feature several speakers each day. Each speaker is a respected leader in the engine building community who covers a unique topic. Some of the speakers are engine builders, while others are engineers or other tech people from component manufacturers. Then, sprinkled liberally throughout the day, there are several opportunities (breakfast, lunch, breaks, and even a cocktail hour) for informal discussions with presenters and other attendees to make new contacts, ask additional questions, or simply do a little bench racing.

Because this conference was so particularly interesting, we thought we'd share a little of what went on at the latest gathering of the AETC. There's no way we can pass along all the great information we learned in the three days there, but we can share some of the highlights. We're also planning future stories based on some of what we've learned here. For 2011 there will be no specific topic, but we're sure there will be plenty to be learned about making power in stock car racing engines. If you want to attend, check out the AETC website for more information, and make sure to look for us when you get there!

Failure Analysis
If you're a regular reader of Circle Track, then you're probably already familiar with the name Keith Dorton. Dorton is a longtime engine builder, owner of Automotive Specialists, and a frequent resource of many of the engine tech stories that appear in the pages of this magazine. Dorton was also the opening speaker for this edition of the AETC.

Dorton spoke on his development process for circle track racing engines, but also touched on his methods for failure analysis. Many engine builders we've met wouldn't admit that they've ever even had a failure, but Dorton's philosophy is if you aren't failing stuff occasionally, you aren't pushing hard enough. The trick is to catch problems before they cost teams races and to learn from them so that you can improve the product.

One important aspect Dorton found that he pointed out is that component failures are rarely simply because of a bad design. Instead, there's often what he calls a "human element" at play. In other words, the real reason for a failure is usually an error in assembly, machining, or even handling.

As an example, Dorton displayed a connecting rod that had developed a crack just underneath the pin end. Dorton caught the crack during a rebuild and pulled the rod before it caused an engine failure, but instead of counting his blessings that a possible engine failure was diverted he set about trying to determine the real cause.

It turns out that the connecting rod design was up to the task of handling the stresses of the engine package it was chosen for. The root of the problem was a ding or mark made just below the rod's pin bore. How it originated isn't known, but it created a stress riser that allowed the crack to form and propagate nearly all the way across the beam of the rod. The crack is nearly invisible to the naked eye, in fact it only really shows up in a magnaflux machine, but it was enough to cause the rod to fail, and if that happened a grenade would be the certain result.