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Karl Otto Keller

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Karl Otto Keller (1877-1942)


1943 Obituary [1]

KARL OTTO KELLER was Director and General Manager of the Engineering Department of Messrs. William Doxford and Sons, Ltd., of Sunderland, and had been closely identified with the development of the Doxford opposed piston oil engine for thirty years.

He was born at Zurich in 1877 and received his primary and secondary education at schools in his native town. At the age of 15 he commenced a five years' apprenticeship with the engineering firm of Kundig-Honegger and Company at Uster, near Zurich, after which he studied for four years at the Zurich Technical School, gaining in 1901 his diploma in mechanical engineering. The next two years were spent in Geneva as a draughtsman working on large double-acting gas engines - a type of plant greatly in favour at that time as a prime mover in factories.

He came to England in 1903 and joined the staff of Messrs. Kynoch, Ltd., Birmingham, where he continued for the next two years on large gas engine development. He also spent a short period with Messrs. D. Napier and Sons, Acton, and with Messrs. Thornycroft at Basingstoke, on the design of large petrol engines for submarines. At that time the possibilities of the adoption of producer gas engines for the propulsion of merchant vessels were being explored by a number of firms, and Mr. Keller was, in 1905, engaged by Messrs. Doxford to carry out investigations. Three years were spent in this work, and it was with reluctance that the firm decided in 1908 to abandon the gas engine project, not because of any difficulty anticipated with the engine itself, but because the problem of producing a satisfactory producer for use on board ships in heavy weather conditions and with the varying grades of coal available at bunkering ports seemed far from being satisfactorily solved. For the next three years Mr. Keller worked in Ipswich with Messrs. Reavell and Co. on the design of small petrol and paraffin engines.

In 1911 he returned to Messrs. Doxford's staff as chief draughtsman and designer of their newly established Oil Engine Department, for, undaunted by his previous experiences of gas engine development, he was convinced that the future engine for the propulsion of cargo vessels was the internal combustion engine. A single-cylinder single-piston two-cycle valve-scavenged engine of 250 b.h.p. was built, tested and abandoned in 1911-12. In the autumn of the latter year design work on opposed piston engines was commenced. A single-cylinder engine of 500 b.h.p. was built and for four years experiments were carried out, first with air injection of fuel and later with airless injection. Through all these trials the engine proved economical and reliable, and the later success of the opposed piston engine in service owed much to this period of intensive testing.

In 1919 construction of Doxford's first opposed piston marine oil engine was commenced. This had four cylinders developing 3,000 i.h.p. at 77 r.p.m. and was installed in the M.V. Yngaren, completed in 1921. Since then engines have been built in large numbers with three, four, five, and six cylinders in powers ranging from 650 to 8,000 b.h.p. In 1923 Mr. Keller became general manager of the Engineering Department, which was now entirely devoted to marine oil engine construction. The engine works were rearranged, extensions were begun, and many modern machine tools were installed. In 1930 the bold step was taken of abandoning almost entirely for constructional purposes the use of cast iron and substituting welded steel plate, saving about 25 per cent of the engine weight at one step. A new department was opened for flame cutting and electric welding of engine parts.

In 1937 Mr. Keller became a director of the firm and his death, which occurred unexpectedly after a short illness, took place on 22nd July 1942 at the age of 65. He had been a Member of the Institution since 1911 and was Chairman of the North Eastern Branch in 1938.

As an engineer he was possessed of a sound, wise and far-seeing judgement, and every step in development was carefully considered. As a designer he never hesitated to break away from established practice when he had satisfied himself that improvement would thereby result. His attention to the smallest detail was remarkable, and no item in drawing office or workshop was considered too trivial to have his personal attention. The value of the pioneering work he has done for the British marine oil engine can hardly be overestimated.


1942 Obituary [2]




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