Tech: Inside ERL Superdeck Sleeve System For Factory LS, LT Blocks

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In recent years, the LS engine platform has become one of the most popular engines in the performance market. Like the old school small-block GM engine of yesteryear, this younger sibling is readily available, and has a plethora of part options.

In addition, power adders are also more and more popular. As technology advances, the amount of additional power being bolted on in the form of turbos, superchargers, and nitrous oxide have exceeded the limitations of many stock components. At the top of that component list is the engine block.

The aftermarket has provided several options for upgrading from the stock block, and while this may be a viable option, in many cases there are always two sides of the decision. In some cases, an aftermarket piece may be ruled out due to competition rules, budget, or even something as simple as fitment.

ERL's Superdeck Sleeve System is available for aluminum LS and LT factory blocks.

The specialists at ERL Performance offer a solution that adds stability and integrity to withstand just about any amount of power you want to pack inside, without taking away any of the advantages to using a factory block. ERL’s Superdeck Sleeve System combines ductile iron cylinder sleeves, an internal truss system, and doweled billet main caps to allow the factory aluminum LS block to handle most any power adder.

By using the patented Superdeck system, the factory LS block has held up to more than 2,600 horsepower, according to ERL’s Andres Vivanco. The Superdeck system is used on aluminum LS blocks, which frees up approximately 130 pounds over a cast iron version, and is available now as an upgrade for LT blocks.

How The Superdeck System Works

Ultimately the internal trusses are the major contributing factor to beefing-up the block. According to ERL, this is accomplished by changing the load path through which torque is transferred.

“With the truss design a stable deck surface as well as block strength is possible without transferring the distortion into the cylinder bores.” – Andres Vivanco, ERL Performance

To accomplish this, a twisting motion is created by the internal torque of the engine and the engine mounting system. Typically the ends of the block and deck surface are relied upon to provide integrity, meaning the torque load is transferred through the deck surface of the block. Without the addition of trusses, distortion is introduced into the deck surface and consequently into the cylinder bores.

ERL’s Andres Vivanco explained the process with added clarity, saying, “A traditional closed deck engine uses the deck surface for this connection, and since the deck is directly attached to the cylinder bores, any distortion in the deck surface will be induced into the cylinder bores. Many auto manufacturers have gone to an open deck design to eliminate this distortion and allow coolant flow at the top of the cylinders, but in high-horsepower applications the cylinders tend to move and create head sealing issues.”

(Left) Cutaway of Superdeck System. (Right) Trusses tie block together between cylinders.

Adding the Superdeck system diverts the load through the trusses and into the block rather than though the deck surface and into the cylinders.

“With the truss design a stable deck surface, as well as block strength, is possible without transferring the distortion into the cylinder bores. Each cylinder has a reinforcement to stop movement rather than relying on the end bulkheads of the block and deck surface to maintain integrity,” Vivanco said.

Implementing The Superdeck System

The process of implanting the Superdeck truss system into a factory LS block is quite extensive. ERL completes the entire process on its in-house CNC equipment, providing complete control over the entire process from production of the cylinder sleeves and trusses, all the way through finish machining.

ERL was kind enough to give us a closer look at the process.

(Left) Shipment of factory blocks are recieved by the pallet. (Center) Initial block inspection. (Right) Chemical wash after sleeve removal.

After the factory core passes an initial inspection, the first part of the transformation is to remove the factory sleeves. Once the sleeves are removed, the block goes through a chemical wash and stress relieving process. According to Vivanco, the block will go through a stress relief process two times in order to stabilize the block prior to any finish machining.

“The vibratory stress relieving vibrates at different frequencies to find the natural frequency of the part initially, and then cycles at varying frequencies over time to relax the stress in the part,” he explains. “During that cycle it will run a test to see if it has lowered the initial frequency, which will indicate that the stress has been relieved, and repeats as necessary.”

The block goes through multiple stress relief cycles and a heat cycle prior to finish machining.

Next, a large portion of the upper deck surface is machined away and the block is prepped for the installation and welding of the trusses. The truss system ties the cylinder block together at the Siamese portion of the cylinders, allowing torque to pass through the truss rather than through the deck surface.

“The trusses run between each cylinder, connecting the outer wall of the block to the inner wall. When torque (twist) develops internally by the engine and by the motor mounting system, it wants to transmit through the block. But now it’s reinforced by the truss connection at each cylinder,” states Vivanco.

ERL also offers an option to add an increased number of head bolt holes. The six-bolt option provides an additional head bolt on each side of the cylinders to provide six total bolts providing clamping force around each cylinder. Additional material is needed for this option. It is welded in at the same time as the trusses.

Once all of the welding is complete, the block moves back to the CNC machine in preparation for installation of the new cylinder sleeves. ERL’s ductile iron sleeves are manufactured in-house; the proprietary wet sleeve design is three- to four-times stronger than the factory cast iron sleeves.

(Upper Left) Upper structure is removed. (Upper Right) Trusses are installed and then welded into place. Additional material is added for the six-bolt block option. (Bottom) ERL machines its proprietary sleeves in-house.

With the sleeves installed the deck is ready for a finish cut. The block is run through the CNC decking machine. Following the deck cut, a tooling change is made and the sleeves are bored to size.

On the bottom side of the block, additional material is removed to provide clearance for stroker cranks and doweled main caps. Like the truss and sleeves, billet main caps are also manufactured in-house. Each Superdeck block receives the beefed-up mains, eliminating cap movement present on a factory block.

(Upper Left) Decking and boring is completed. (Upper Right) Lower portion is clearanced for billet main caps and stroker cranks. (Bottom Left) Billet main caps are machined in house. Notice the dowel hole between the main stud holes. (Bottom Right)

Once the structural enhancements have been installed, the block goes through a heat cycle and final stress relieving process to stabilize it prior to final machining.

“The heat cycle allows the sleeves and torqued main caps to expand and then contract, as they will do in operating conditions. This is done to seat in prior to finish machining to achieve the ultimate assurance of stability. Essentially, the combination of the heat cycle and vibratory stress relieving is to provide similar results as a ‘seasoned’ block,” says Vivanco.

Finish machining includes align boring (left), align honing (center), and cylinder honing (right).

Finish machining starts with align-boring the mains and honing to the final size. Torque plates are installed and the cylinder bores are also honed according to piston size. A final pressure check and block inspection concludes the process. After a solvent bath, the ultra-tough Superdeck block is ready for delivery to the clean room.

(Left) Pressure testing block for proper sleeve seal. (Center) One final block inspection prior to final wash and delivery to the clean room (Right).

Finite Element Analysis: Uncovering The Strength Of Sleeves

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While the Superdeck system isn’t necessary for every application, it is a viable choice for extreme engines. ERL offers a ductile iron dry sleeve upgrade for factory blocks without the truss system. But, depending on the build, you will need some extra support when the power numbers barrel-down on four digits.

Vivanco states, “Generally we recommend moving to the stronger Superdeck around 900 to 1,000 horsepower depending on the power adder and cylinder bore desired.”

Don’t worry; you don’t necessarily have to break anything to figure out where the line should be drawn. ERL provided an example of how a sleeve can be designed and tested using engine simulation and finite element analysis.

The process is fairly straightforward. Engine simulation software is used to determine the maximum internal combustion pressure of a particular combination. That pressure is then applied to the sleeve through finite element analysis.

This mathematical method breaks the sleeve into small elements that contain its material and structural properties to determine the displacement throughout the part. The displacement is then used to calculate the stress in every element. The results are compared to the known material data to determine if the sleeve will fail.


Additional Advantages Of Using Superdeck Block

Supporting big power isn’t the only advantage to using ERL’s Superdeck block. According to ERL, there are other advantages as well. These range from adherence to stock class competition rules to improved cooling. Following are the main highlights.

Utilizing the stock core keeps stock locations for accessory drives and motor mounts. This may save the builder some cash in the end by eliminating the need to purchase additional adapters. Standard oil pan and pump designs can be utilized as well.

Ductile iron sleeves replace the factory cast iron cans. Material wise, the sleeves are three to four times stronger, but that isn’t the only plus. The thick upper walls of ERL’s sleeves provide potential for larger bore sizes.

Additionally, the sleeves are 5.800 inches long and provide support for the piston at bottom dead center (BDC) on longer stroke engines. Piston skirts that taper away from the cylinder wall is referred to as a breaking point.

The piston must have cylinder wall support from the top of the piston to the breaking point at all times to avoid piston rock. Longer sleeves provide longevity and less oil consumption on stroker engines due to reduced piston rock.

Coolant flow is also dramatically enhanced by the sleeve design in combination with the truss system. Reduced flow and trapped steam are typical obstacles on V-type blocks with Siamese cylinders. However, the sleeve and truss system were designed to force coolant into those normally stagnant areas.

“On a traditional V configuration engines with uniform cylinder wall thickness, a high point is always formed where the cylinders join due to the 45 degree bank angle,” says Vivanco. “When the cylinders are Siamese, where there is no flow path between the cylinders, this area becomes stagnant or has greatly reduced flow and will trap any steam generated in the system.”

Cutaway highlighting the thickness of the ERL sleeve on the right compared to the factory one on the left.

Cutaway highlighting the thickness of the ERL sleeve on the right, compared to the factory one on the left.

Many cylinder heads and gaskets have holes in this area to allow steam to escape from the block and into the cylinder head. However, ERL designed the truss system to actually direct coolant flow into the Siamese portion of the block to improve cooling in this critical area.

“The trusses being located at the Siamese area have legs that extend to the water jacket floor to force the coolant flow to the upper cylinder where there is a series of holes for coolant flow. The proximity of these holes in the trusses is such that coolant must pass right next to the cylinders [at the highest point], and not allow stagnation or steam to collect,” says Vivanco.

Forcing coolant to pass through this area pulls heat out of the spot that tends to run the hottest. The truss itself also helps carry heat to the coolant where the cylinders meet according to Vivanco.

“Typically on an engine block that has Siamese cylinders there is a large area of the adjoining cylinders that don’t have close access to the coolant … which makes it harder to dissipate the heat. With the vertical truss there is a large area of aluminum between the cylinders to carry this heat into the coolant passage where the truss ends radiate this heat into the coolant,” he says.

Without the truss, heat from adjoining cylinders must radiate through the cylinder walls which can cause heat variations. With the truss, heat has a path through a large surface area that is surrounded by coolant to dissipate heat and keep temperatures uniform.

ERL can provide anything between the bare block and a complete engine

Conclusion

ERL’s Superdeck system provides a viable alternative to purchasing an aftermarket block for extreme performance engines. The patented system stiffens the entire block while maintaining a stable deck surface. The wet sleeve and truss design allow for thick upper cylinder walls for added strength and larger bore sizes. Cylinder length is also extended for needed piston support at BDC on longer stroke engines. Additional advantages include improved coolant flow to the Siamese portion of the cylinders.

The ultra strong block is completely processed in-house on ERL’s CNC equipment allowing the company to maintain quality control over the entire process. Each block includes billet main caps with ARP studs and half-inch diameter head stud machining. Additional holes for six-bolt cylinder head installation are optional.

With all finish machining complete, including cylinders honed to your specific pistons, cam bearings installed, and hardware kit included, the Superdeck block from ERL provides a solid solution for high output and boosted applications.

About the author

Eric Labore

Eric LaBore's extensive background includes a solid education in automotive and high performance motorsports technology and 10 years of working in the industry. Currently, he is a full-time ASE master technician and advanced engine performance specialist. As a former dyno operator and engine assembler, he is passionate about custom and performance engines.
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