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How to add a second marine alternator to just about any engine
Modern cruising vessels have high electrical demands, where refrigeration, radar, laptop computers and even plasma TVs are the norm. Keeping batteries charged is a challenge, and fitting a second alternator, says Scott Fratcher, is an easy solution
Marine alternator instalation
Want more charge amps? Less time running the engine to keep the batteries up?
More amps often means either a bigger alternator, or better yet, a second alternator which adds significantly more potential to the boat than only increasing the amperage of the original alternator.
Do the math
The math is easy. Imagine a typical diesel with a 55 amp alternator. If the alternator is removed and replaced with a 100 amp model, we gain 45 amps. If you add a second 130 amp alternator to the original 55 amp system, you instantly send a battery-boosting 185 amps into the electrical system.
Higher charging amps also increases the vessel’s safety margin. Single alternators may fail due to overwork – the constant heavy load to recharge the boat’s electrical demand takes its toll. This could lead to discharged batteries, with all electrical systems shut down.
I’ve encountered many boaties who’ve spent an uncomfortable night in the shipping lanes alternating the last of the battery power between radar and navigation lights.
Many consider the decision to fit a second alternator a no-brainer. The only question is: how do you install one easily? This article discusses a technique to mount a second alternator on almost any inboard engine. And it’s worth noting that the process can be used to belt drive more than just an alternator – a hydraulic pump, de-watering bilge pump or anything else you might need to turn are also possibilities.
Before we start the project check your engine model. Do you have a Yanmar? If so you may be able to purchase a complete second alternator kit from Yachtwork.
Yachtwork.com has been building Yanmar highouput marine alternator bracket kits for over 20 years. The Yachtwork patented production process allows them to produce a complete alternator bracket kit, with custom dual groove pulley and jacking style tensioning arm for just $599USD. This is far less cost than any shop is going to be able to build a kit for and by far the easiest method of adding more amperage to boats such as Beneteau, Jenneau, and many others.
For the rest of marine engines read the instructions below and decide if the project is writhen your scope or at least print off the article and bring it to mechanic so he has a basis to start the project.
SIX STEPS TO ALTERNATOR II
1. Design and planning
DESIGN AND PLANNING
Start the design process by taking an alternator in hand and holding it next to the engine with the pulleys aligned.
There should be 12 possible positions: starboard low, starboard high, port low, port high, and above or below the drive pulley.
Face the alternator aft and you have six more possible locations – for a total of 12.
Hold the alternator in all 12 positions. Pick the best two or three positions and compare the possibilities. Choose a mounting position with the alternator as close to the engine as possible. Look for access, wire runs, mounting bolt holes in the engine and cooling air.
MOUNTING A SECOND PULLEY
We need to spin the second alternator from a second drive pulley at the front of the engine. Your engine may already have one, but usually you’ll have to add one, bolting it to the front of your existing engine pulley.
First, choose a pulley size. For a typical 30 to 75hp engine with maximum rpm of around 3600, a good drive pulley diameter is about 175mm.
I’ve experimented with larger pulleys (up to 230mm) but it’s not effective as most engines begin to hunt at low rpm. Conversely, if the pulley diameter is less than 150mm I often have to run the engine up to 1200rpm to get a good charge.
If in doubt, duplicating the original pulley size is usually a good bet.
There are two easy methods to fit a spare pulley to the front of an engine:
1. Have a machine shop make the new pulley; or,
A machine shop makes the new pulley, the simplest but most expensive option.
The machine shop will need the bolt pattern and centering ring measurements from the existing drive pulley on your engine. If you can take the measurements from the manual, the machine shop should have an easy job. If you have to take the measurements yourself, use digital calipers. Be sure to scrape away any old paint so your measurement is metal to metal.
Note: If the alternator is to produce more than 80amps, you should use a dual belt drive. You’re pushing the limit with a single belt – it will often slip, leaving gobs of black, sticky dust in your engine room.
Buy an “off-the-shelf” pulley at your local hardware store and have a machine shop make a new centering ring that fits your engine. You can even use an old car’s sheet metal“stamped” pulley. The machine shop will combine the pulley onto a centering ring and you’re ready to install.
This option has the advantage of knowing the pulley face angles are going to be correct and smooth. It does not take much angle error, a nick or lathe marks left in the pulley face to make the belt begin to “dust”. Belt dusting is the major problem in building a dual alternator system. Twist, misalignment, rough surfaces, and drawing too much load all add to the amount of the belt dust. Commercial pulleys help solve this issue.
MAKING THE BASE PLATE
The base plate is a steel plate that gets bolted to the engine, and it becomes the base which holds the soon-to-be fabricated alternator bracket. The bracket is typically welded to the base plate.
Look for flat areas on the side of the engine block near where you want to mount your alternator. You want the plate to cover a minimum of three bolt holes – five or six is better.
Cut a piece of steel to cover the bolt holes. Using 6mm plate is the minimum – 8mm is better. Test fit the piece of steel over the area of the engine block. If it all fits and covers the bolt holes, you’re ready to start marking and drilling the holes.
Marking where the holes are to be drilled can be challenging, especially if the plate is in a difficult to reach location. Here’s an easy trick – it’s what I call the “sneak and tap” approach, and involves using a sharpened bolt screwed into each of the engine bolt holes (one at a time) to serve as a “reverse punch”.
Leave just enough bolt thread (the sharpened point) showing so you can use a pair of pliers to remove the bolt. Lay the base plate in the exact final location. Now for the tricky part – strike the steel plate with a single sharp blow from a hammer directly over the punch. Once marked you are ready to drill the hole.
Remove the bolt/punch and shift it to a new hole. Fasten the base plate (with a bolt through the newly-drilled hole) in position. Another sharp tap, remove the plate and drill the new hole. Repeat this process until all holes are drilled. This method is fast and easy and leaves no sloppy holes. If you make the base plate perfect, the rest of the job becomes much easier.
BUILDING A BRACKET
The bracket is the metal frame that holds the alternator, allowing it to pivot for tensioning the belt. I like to use a 50mm piece of 6mm flat bar. Cut two ears and weld them on the flat bar at a 90º angle (see photo).You should now have a base plate and bracket all made up. They may need to be connected with a strut (depending on the position of the alternator) to get the two pulleys in alignment. It’s usually the simplest to weld the plate, strut and bracket together.
To find the correct alignment for the alternator, lay a wooden dowel rod in the drive pulley of the engine. Let the rod find its natural center. You can now simply lift the rod up and down to show where an exact straight line to the slave pulley will fall. Reverse the procedure until the slave pulley is pointed directly at the drive pulley.
Remove all parts and tack the strut into position.
Replace and see if it all fits. If it does it’s time to weld it up and paint. Use this dowel rod method anytime you want an easy check of belt alignment.
MAKING A BELT-TENSIONER
Turnbuckle tension arms are an easy solution for making an alternator adjusting arm, and you only need simple tools – a hacksaw, welder and a drill. If you were making a conventional car-type tensioning arm, you’d have to cut an arc in the flat bar with an oxy-acetylene torch. Many boaties fit this turnbuckle swing arm to their existing alternator just to solve adjustment problems.
Begin with a half-inch or larger open barrel turnbuckle, and remove the studs from the barrel.
Cut the center out of the barrel, leaving leavening 120 to 150mm of turnbuckle barrel.
Weld the barrel back together. Put the studs back in place and cut them to the length you worked out for the project at hand. Weld a flat plate to the end of each stud, drill a hole in the plates and mount to the engine.
AUTO TENSIONING ARM
An automatic tensioning arm is another easy solution for a DIY installed alternator.
You can buy a “rasta” or LoveJoy arm for automatic belt tensioning from a good bearing supply house. Check out http://www.lovejoy-inc.com/
The device costs about $100. Simply mount the roller inside the unloaded belt between the drive pulley and alternator. In the photo above, the pulleys turn clockwise. Adjust the tension and ignore it for the life of the belt.
The second advantage of using a “rasta” or LoveJoy tensioning arm is the alternator does not have to rotate away from the engine to adjust the belt. This may mean a lot if you have a tight space to work in. You simply mount the alternator as close to the engine as you can manage and let the tensioning arm take up the belt slack.
STOP ENGINE BEFORE TURNING “OFF”
Ever notice what battery switches have printed on their faces? We all know not to disconnect the batteries while the engine is running, but what would happen if we did?
An alternator diode would fail – and that’s not good.
The reason is buried in Ohm’s Law which lays out the relationship between volts, amps, and watts. An alternator’s total power output is measured in watts. A typical high-output alternator might be charging 100amps at 14V – 100 x 14 = 1400 watts. If we had a 24-volt system, the alternator would be producing 50amps at 28 volts to make 1400 watts.
So, when we have an alternator producing 1400 watts and someone turns off the battery switch, the 1400 watts is already in the pipeline, so to speak. But the load (or current or amp draw) just dropped to zero because of disconnection to the battery.
Ohm’s Law tells us 1400 watts divided by zero (our new amp load) equals infinity. In other words, the voltage inside the alternator will climb toward infinity till it finds an escape route (the path of least resistance). That’s the shortest path to ground and typically, that’s the thin film inside a diode. Pop! The diode shorts.
Quickly switching the batteries back on might save the situation, but usually the damage is done. The boat owner may see the output of the alternator suddenly drop by a third. A typical complaint from boaties is: “My 100amp alternator is now producing 66 amps on the meter.”
This is because the alternator stator is really three-phase, and has three separate windings combining to produce 100amps. Since only the diode was ruined, each phase of the stator is still producing 33amps. If all three phases of the alternator are still producing 33amps each, why is the boat’s electrical meter only showing 66amps?
The “lost” 33amps are still being produced, but they’re not being rectified because that is the diode’s job. And un-rectified means alternating current (AC) is entering your DC system.
This is bad. At the same time that we are charging at 14 volts DC, we are also sending a battery-destroying AC “charge” into the boat’s electrical system. And because the boat’s electrical charge meter does not read AC, the owner has no clue something has gone wrong.
Those 33 AC amps are destroying the boat’s battery bank, electrical boards, and maybe even the hull zincs.
To check whether your alternator has a shorted diode you can clamp the positive alternator output lead with an AC/DC “clamp amp” meter. Switch the meter to DC amp and read the charge rate. Switch the meter to AC and we should see three or four amps.
A reading half of the DC charge rate indicates a bad diode. For example, if we were to see 66amps DC and 33amps AC, this would tell the technician it’s time to pull the alternator and change the diode pack.
Although not as accurate, we might also take a high-quality digital volt meter and measure voltage at the back of the alternator. We should see around 14 volts, but switch to AC and we should see around seven volts. Reading 14 volts AC could also indicate a faulty diode.
Adapted from Scott Fratcher’s How To Make Money With Boats, available at www.yachtwork.com
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