The Future of Indian Slow Speed Engines

Petter Type
Petter Type


The following may be a purely fictional post. Names, times and dates may have been made up… 

Some eight or ten years back, a Biologist and Fish Farmer in Texas bought two Indian made Petter engines with pumps attached. It wasn’t long and the drive between the pump and the engine failed. The design was good, but poorly implemented, Brett (the owner) was handy, and it took him little time to sort the problem and implement a house remedy for the simple drive coupler.  He eventually logged a lot of hours on the two engines. A workman would fill them up with fuel, and they’d run most of the day, they relied on bleed water for cooling, and I’m not sure they took care to fit a thermostat or run near an ideal temperature. What I do remember, is they lost bleed water a few times, and being the engines were unattended and had no shut down provisions of any kind, the owner was dumbfounded that they were able to restart them with no apparent damage. I had a theory that maybe the fuel got so hot that it vaporized at the injector and interfered with the delivery of fuel killing the engine BEFORE the engine seized.  At some point, I lost touch with the owner, but I do remember he was really pleased with the cost versus value of the engine and total number of hours he had already accumulated.

In another location in the Central Cascade Mountains in Washington State, the owner of a small horse ranch bought a Mini Petter mono pump from an Oregon Dealer. This unit was used to boost the pressure off an irrigation line , and run sprinklers on about five Acres of pasture. I believe this little engine was rated at 2.6 or 2.8 HP. I travel the road that goes by this  pump, and I’ve noticed it is running most summer days. The owner tells me he gets nearly 12 hours of run time before the tank goes dry and the engine stops. For those who know the Mini Petter, there was only one importer that I know of, and the engine suffered from a poor governor linkage, which caused him to stop importing them. The Rancher complained that this engine had went into over speed once when it had lost siphon on the inlet side of the pump.  That problem had not been seen in the standard sizes of Petters which were normally 8-10 hp. Other than that, he was plenty happy, and I found that all he had done over more than three years of running was change the lube oil, and check for water in the fuel filter.  I asked if he had ever checked valve lash? He replied “no, maybe I should check it”.

These are only examples of people in North America who were happy with the longevity of the Indian Petter,  I mention it here because it is a testament to the design, whatever the short comings are, the engine design (no matter how obsolete) has proven it can run in near continuous duty service and provide a return on investment to the owner. I don’t suggest that the Indian slow speed Market has ever had, or will have adequate QC, it seems a crap shoot at best. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Indian slowspeed Quality is best  measured in probability… not certainty  

At some time prior to 1999, you could buy a 20 foot container load of 8hp Petters for as low as $160.00 USD each. Of course this was before the US Dollar’s slide downward against the Indian currency, and I don’t suggest that you would have received decent quality for that price. I mention this because the price of Indian engines whether they be good or bad has risen in  price ever since. I would imagine a container load price might be $600 each today, but only a guess.

 At present 1/3/2011, there are at least two smaller dealers selling engines or engine kits Imported from India, I have no idea if these are certified, old stock, or what, but people are finding the sources with google searches. Most are Lister types, as this seems to be the more desirable between the two common types…. Lister type VS Petter Type.

Let me mention that reports here of losing teeth off timing gears, and finding the engines dirty inside is a complaint that might be ‘on the rise’ with lower production numbers in India, and that may be the case, demand has been waning  with the down turn in the economy.

At present, the demand is likely DIYers, Off Girders, and this includes the Wood Gas crowd who apparently have Gasifiers running that have their members excited about a return in investment.

One engine that was brought to my attention is the Arrow K series.  This engine looks identical to the Indian Petter Types and it’s equipped with a spark plug, ignition system, and a carburetion system that handles well head gas and other types of gas like propane, butane, etc. According to a person who is considering this engine, the price for the K6 at less than 5hp with features like electric start is $5k plus shipping.  The engine is rated continuous duty, but I note the warranty is 4000 hours or one year, and it covers only parts that are found defective. The difference in horse power output is likely a combination of the lower BTU fuel, and the fact that Arrow has lowered the operating RPM from the typical 1500 RPM of the design to 800 RPM. 

The Arrow name has been around for a long time, and some of their engines are legendary, the K series is new, and some of us are curious where the engine is assembled, where the parts come from, and how many people own and run them? Has Arrow become the first company to build what looks like an old Petter Type with the quality Americans Expect? Is it assembled in Tulsa?

Look here at the K series

I’m sure the DIYer will take note of the gas fuel,  and small time importers will note just how easy it is to fit a spark plug, mount an after market ignition module, and fit a gas carb. Will this put the small time importers back into the business, or has the US Dollar slid so far against the Indian Rupee, that people will be discouraged to place a container order?

Of course I’d like to hear from you… especially if you own a K series Arrow engine. This might be the answer for American built quality? Maybe you’ve been to the factory and you’ll report back?

As a note, diesels have long been used as dual fuel engines, you can plumb in natural gas, and the engine can be set up to use diesel as the pilot fuel, and natural gas or another gas as the bulk of the fuel. I wonder if the EPA has any provisions for dual fueled engines, and emissions?

Added note 1/5/2011:

Thanks to a top DIYer, I received a link that touches on the Indian Petter and the K6 Arrow. There’s three pages to look over and I remind you, I have the questions NOT the answers.

On this page of an Arrow newsletter, we have an announcement of the K6 and who is heading up the project, no doubt we know who has the Answers to our questions.

Interests in Slow speed and dependable off grid power spans across a number of groups, who can argue that the oil field industry isn’t one of the premier proving grounds for stationary designs?

Let’s attempt to inventory some of the typical flaws we find in the Indian Petter. Some of these flaws have a root cause in the demand for these engines, if it were more steady, it would be far easier for an erector to retain trained employees. Here’s a partial list of faults.

  1. Dirty assemblies, engines assembeled on a sandy floor, and sometimes the castings still have pockets of casting sand in them. 
  2. Poorly finished parts, cranks lacking  the proper fillets or finishes.
  3. Cylinders not installed perpendiciliar to the crank center.
  4. tappets hardened, but critical surfaces not re-ground to assure they are square and of a proper finish.
  5. Poor fitting gaskets, no use of more effective modern sealants like RTV.
  6. Cylinder Liners that are not set right in the water jacket. The height of the liner needs to be set just above the top of the cylinder to spec to assure a good seal at the fire ring.
  7. Contaminated head gaskets (sometimes full of sand)
  8. Contaminated bushings and bearings (sometimes full of sand)
  9. Timing gears poorly made, this includes in accuracies in the machine work, and the wrong materials used.
  10. Unfinished parts, like the critical end of rockers, where they meet the top of a valve cap.
  11. Cylinders set too high or low where the compression is not set properly.
  12. Cams and Governors assembled with less than the full machining. some examples provide very poor governor response.

The above list is incomplete but give you an idea of what many of us have found in Indian production, and as of today, I don’t know of any supplier who has a proper Quality Assurance program.

With all this said…. DIYers, Off Griders, and even oil men give credit to Companies who attempt to provide a product in demand. Arrow knows there are a lot of wells out there that can produce, and oil prices will continue to escalate, causing wells once thought no longer profitable to go back into production. The K6 is an attempt to fill that nitch and provide the small producer a means to produce from a well and not put all the income back into production costs.

Still we see no one on this thread asking the obvious questions, and I think it’s because we are often older people who don’t want to ‘rock the boat’.

Here’s a list of questions I’d consider asking before I made a purchase.

  1. Where is the K6 assembled?
  2. Is there a quality Assurance program in place different than what India typically provides?
  3. Is the flywheel held on with a gib key same as the typical Indian engine? If so is the key properly fitted, or driven home with a sledge in typical Indian fashion causing you some uncertainty as to how your service man is going to pull it if necessary.

One mention on the EPA rules, as many of us understand, the EPA is no more than a foot ball kicked from one end of the playing field to the other. They’d like you to think there’s some science behind their decisions, but if you are old enough to reach the handle on a public drinking fountain, you know that powerful lobbies help form EPA opinion, sometimes the lobbyist represents the needs of farmers and men who attempt to lower our dependence on Arab oil.

So it is that you should expect the EPA rules to change, and they are NOT required to inform you when they do. Here’s some examples of what might change.

  1. Diesels that don’t meet emissions on petrol fuels may be allowed to run on biofuels, or be used when the bulk of their fuel is from another source like well head gas.
  2. Emissions from other types of engines may change. What you read one day in the EPA rules could be challenged, and what is illegal today could be legal tomorrow.

At one time, according to an attorney’s interpretation, any diesel required to meet the EPA’s emission standards MUST meet it on petrol diesel. We need ask… from where does their authority come, and what is their mission? One might assume this decision comes out of their mistrust. An example.. let’s say emissions tests prove you can meet the present requirement on biofuel. The EPA might consider that you could fuel your engine on petrol diesel and exceed the emissions. The question… at that point are they enforcing emissions, or are they placing an unreasonable burden on the American Farmer in their attempt to keep you from using an unapproved fuel? WE might consider off road diesel, the EPA has not outlawed the fuel because you might use it illegally.. not yet.. so how do they legally ban any combination of engine and fuel that will meet emissions?         

For many years, Diesels have been used as dual fuel engines, the pilot fuel may be #2 diesel or bio diesel and the bulk of the fuel may be well head gas, wood gas, or similar. WE know the EPA will be challenged in court everyday for it’s decision to ban a use, and for it’s decision NOT to ban something. If we were to design the perfect poison pill to cripple our Enemy’s economy, could we do better than give them the EPA? I wonder how many new court houses we’ll need to build, and how many new attorneys the process will employ? We all look on knowing this is all overhead and contributes nothing to the nation’s GNP. 

The message is: look at the EPA rules often, and do not assume it’s static. In addition, don’t assume that an importer has in right either. You might be offered a bio-fueled engine, but until you find the EPA ruling that allows it, you won’t know for sure.

At present, there are two small dealers offering Indian assembled engines from the slow speed market. There is also an Indian vendor who is promising that he can send you a legal engine designed to burn bio-diesel. My question. Where’s the EPA ruling that allows same?

Here’s an email received Jan 2011 from a DIYer needing reliable power off grid, and willing to totally rebuild whatever he received as necessary. Keep in mind this is a snapshot in time! Do not assume the Indian supplier was wrong, the EPA is building a pile of documents and rulings that will soon reach elevations where the air is too rare to support life itself. The information I forwarded our DIYer came from an Attorney, and he could have been wrong too. On what day did any of us form our opinion, and on what day did the EPA change their rule?

Here’s the email slightly altered to protect the innocent, I wanted to leave the praise in place but thought better of it..

My first mistake was assuming that common sense would have anything to do with government policy.  I imported my engine from XXXXXXXX and was very surprised how straightforward and simple it would be to import one of their “bio diesel” engines.  Taking their word for that was my second mistake.  One of the things I did right in the process was ask you if these engines met current EPA standards, you advised me that they did not. I imported as parts with the plan to build my own engine. 
I ended up having XXXXXXX disassemble the main components of my engine and ship it as parts.  This was the first time they had done this and there was a slight increase in price.  My third mistake was not hiring a customs agent.  I did not know I would need one.  Although I am sure there are those who can function without one I found that I had ordered my engine parts at the end of a grace period for tougher import security measures.  Mr. XXXXXX informed me that my customs agent had to tell the government about my coming cargo before it left the Indian port.  This information would have been useful except for the fact the cargo had left port.  The port authority agents I tried to talk to about proper forms seemed to know less about the new regs than I did.  At one point their advice was to abandon the cargo.  Fortunately I found a great company, XXXXXX in XXXXXX that sorted it all out for me.  They did send the EPA compliance certification documents, but quickly withdrew that request when I pointed out it was parts being shipped and not a engine.
The crates arrived in pretty good shape.  I was very glad to have your Lister Longevity CD and went over the engine as you suggested.  I found no major problems and was impressed with the over all workmanship.  I am having a little trouble getting one of the tappets to rotate as I turn the engine manually, but will see how it behaves when the engine actually runs.

Above: Know that it is your legal right to import up to: $2000 worth of goods personally and without a broker. The Customs website shoudl have all the steps outlined as to how this is done.  

Above is an example of an Indian builder who has likely provided quality that meets or exceeds expectation, but of course, the proof is in the service it provides. Our EPA is building an Empire that may employ numbers greater than any standing army in the world. There  should be plenty of people their to answer the phone so call often, and make sure you have the current information. I’m hoping there will be some list you can get on where you can be informed of any change of a rule you are interested in.

As we know, you can get a bachelor’s degree in the use of Microsoft’s Spreadsheet. I suggest we watch for a Bachelor’s Degree offered in navigating EPA law.. It’s coming…             

George B.

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2 Responses to The Future of Indian Slow Speed Engines

  1. Derek Curlee says:

    I don’t know much about Arrow engines other than there are three C series engines running 24 hours a day pumping oil at my family’s ranch in South Texas. One of the engines was put on a pump jack back in the early 90s and has been running since, with usual maintenance. The only problem with these is the ignition system. They are the older magnito system and don’t like to run in the rain, so if the K is made to the same quality as the C, should be just fine.

  2. George B. says:

    Derek, glad to hear you had good luck with the C series, that ‘K’ looks identical to the
    Indian Type Petter…so if you learn anything about that one, please let us know..

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