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What are Ignition Coils and what do they do?

Features & Benefits

Evolution of the Ignition Coil

Ignition Coil Types & Part Numbering System

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Evolution of the Ignition Coil

Much technological advancement has contributed to different types of ignition coils being developed over the years.

Initially the focus was on preventing failure and improving ignition reliability. And with the introduction of the 3-way catalytic converter and direct fuel injection, the reliability, precise control and specification of different ignition parameters has become increasingly important. This was only possible with electronic systems and control.

With the development of modern downsized engines, which comply with strict environmental standards (reduction of harmful exhaust emissions and fuel consumption), the demands grew with regard to ignition voltage requirements, extreme heat resistance, increasing transformation performance, electromagnetic tolerance and weight reduction.

Cylinder coil

The cylinder or ‘can’ coil is a distributor ignition coil and is one of the oldest types. They can be found in most classic and older vehicles. They are usually filled with oil to act as an insulator. The problem: the risk of leakages and short circuits increased over time.

Distributor ignition coil

Following the cylinder coil, more compact and powerful versions of the distributor coil was developed. However, as important weakness of this traditional ignition system remained: the mechanical distribution. Components with moving parts will always be subjected to wear and mechanical distributors can also suffer from moisture and contact problems depending on weather condition.

Ignition Coil System

Several automotive manufacturers came up with the idea of combining multiple ignition coils in one complete system. Such system is commonly known as a ‘rail’ or ‘cassette’. For some vehicle applications, this ignition coil system can be equipped with an ionic current measurement device which checks the combustion quality.

Block Coil

Due to ever-increasing environmental standards that vehicle manufacturers are required to adhere to, new vehicles must operate more efficiently, with lower fuel consumption and emission levels. The reliability and control of the ignition process plays an essential role, and with the development of block coils with an integrated ignition module, this standard was achieved. This type of ignition coil is found on ignition systems with ‘static distribution’.

Pencil Coils

Since the year 2000, there has been a major advancement of small downsized engines which deliver a similar performance to that of larger capacity engines. Due to high charging pressure and faster movements of the mixture, they require higher ignition voltages which need to reach the spark plugs with no power loss and without interfering with the on-board electronics. For this reason, pencil coils were developed that deliver the high voltage directly to the spark plug. This ignition design has made the application of ignition leads redundant.