How Pistons Work

Engine pistons are one of the most important parts for heavy-duty equipment. They are necessary for converting fuel your engine burns into the energy used to drive the vehicle forward, and similarly transferring force that enable hydraulic systems to move and function.

This article will discuss what pistons are made of and how they work in relation to heavy-duty applications.

What Heavy-Duty Pistons Are Made of

The most common materials used for pistons is aluminium or steel. Aluminium pistons are most common in engines for commercial cars and vehicles thanks to their incredible thermal efficiency whilst carrying plenty of mass that is ideal for the smaller engines. However, for heavy-duty diesel engines and applications, steel is often more suitable.

Steel is much stronger than aluminium, making it better at withstanding the pressures of heavier applications. Steel does have lower thermal conductivity than aluminium, which requires large oil galleys for cooling that are too big for the engines of smaller vehicles. They also weigh a lot more and are harder to mass produce than aluminium pistons, making them more appropriate for heavy-duty compared to smaller engines and applications.

For both steel and aluminium pistons, the piston ring is manufactured steel. This benefits steel piston applications, as this lowers concern for wear to the piston ring. However, given the bore is also steel, this can create wear issues from friction. To solve this, many modern steel pistons are coated with a high-tech phosphate that protects the piston and acts as a sacrificial lubricant.

How Pistons Work

Whether it is in a heavy-duty or commercial engine, the way the piston works is fundamentally the same. The gas and pressure produced by burning the fuel expands in the cylinder and pushes on the top of the piston. This force equals the area of the piston multiplied by the gas pressure, so larger heavy-duty pistons generate more power needed to move heavier loads. As the piston is pushed up and down within the fixed cylinder by the expanding combustion gases, it rotates the crankshaft, which through the power train creates the motion to drive the wheels.

During this process, the piston rings seal the cylinder bore from the crankshaft, whilst also removing excess oil from the cylinder walls to manage oil consumption and dissipating heat absorbed by the piston to the running surface inside the cylinder.

Pistons in Heavy-Duty Applications

Pistons are incredibly important for supporting heavy-duty equipment. Small improvements in their design has a direct effect on fuel consumption and efficiency by reducing friction within engines and allowing them to work better for longer. They are an essential part of heavy-duty vehicles internal combustion energy, responsible for converting fuel into energy, as well as creating movement in various hydraulic systems.

Keeping your engines and consequently your pistons well-maintained and replacing old ones is important to guaranteeing the performance of heavy-duty equipment over time. At Jaytrac, we have over 25 years’ experience supplying replacement parts for Caterpillar, Komatsu, Volvo, Cummins, Deutz, Perkins, and FG Wilson machinery. This includes pistons for both engines and hydraulic systems. For more information on how we can supply your heavy-duty equipment with the right parts, contact us today on 01604 491 133 or email us at Alternatively, send us an enquiry form to get in touch with a member of our friendly team.

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