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Found 2 results

  1. When it comes to overall strength, there's no beating a forged piston. But what is the process that yields the toughest parts in the racing world? We'll show you. When it comes to turning raw metal alloys into useful things, two processes dominate - casting and forging. Both have their place, but when strength and light weight are priorities, forging is the method of choice. Though it’s been around for more than six millennia, forging processes continue to advance the state of the art, bringing us everything from sharper, more durable kitchen knives to more fuel efficient jet engines, plus things much closer to our heart: lighter, stronger pistons. Although forging is a metalworking process thousands of years old, it’s still the best method to produce components with the highest strength and durability. Forging is defined as the controlled deformation of metal into a desired shape by compressive force. At its most basic, it’s a blacksmith working a piece with a hammer and anvil, and those first metalworkers toiling at their forges discovered something important about the pieces they were crafting – compared to similar objects made from melted and cast metal, they were stronger and more durable. Though they knew the finished product was superior, what those ancient smiths didn’t suspect was that the act of forging was changing the internal grain structure of the metal, aligning it to the direction of force being applied, and making it stronger, more ductile, and giving it higher resistance to impact and fatigue. While a cast metal part will have a homogeneous, random grain structure, forging can intentionally direct that structure in ways that give a finished part the highest structural integrity of any metalworking process. Wiseco forged pistons start as raw bar stock in certified 2618 or 4032 aluminum alloy. Once they’re cut into precisely-sized ‘pucks’ they’re ready to be preheated in preparation for forging. Although many performance enthusiasts might put billet parts at the top of the heap in terms of desirability, the reality is that the billet they are created from doesn't have the same grain properties of a forging. The Wiseco Forging Process Today’s state of the art in forging technology is far removed from the smith’s bellows-stoked fire and anvil. In Wiseco’s ISO 9000-certified forging facility, pistons begin life as certified grade aluminum bar stock, cut to precise lengths to form slugs. The choice of material is critical - conventional wisdom has always said that a forged piston requires additional piston-to-bore clearance to allow for expansion, leading to noise from piston slap until the engine gets up to temperature, but per Wiseco’s Research and Development Manager David Fussner, “Forged pistons do require additional room temperature clearance. However, the 4032 forging alloy we use has about 12% silicon content, and this significantly controls the expansion to nearly the same as a 12% silicon cast piston. The 2618 alloy expands a bit more and does require a bit more room temperature clearance than 4032.” Pistons are forged in a ‘backwards extrusion’ process where a moving punch presses the raw material into the die to form the rough shape. The process takes only a fraction of a second (longer in the isothermal press), and the speed of the press helps determine how material flows, and therefore the internal grain structure of the forging. While 4032 is more dimensionally stable across the typical operating temperature range seen inside an engine, it does give up a small advantage in ductility to 2618, which has a silicon content of less than 0.2 percent. This makes 2618 a better choice for applications where detonation may be an issue, like race engines running high boost or large doses of nitrous oxide. The low silicon alloy’s more forgiving nature in these instances makes up for the tradeoffs in increased wear and shorter service life compared to 4032. Once cut to the proper size, slugs are heated to a predetermined temperature and moved to the forging press itself, which is also maintained at a controlled temperature. There are two different types of presses employed at Wiseco; mechanical and hydraulic. Both have a long history in manufacturing, and each has specific strengths. Mechanical forging presses are well-suited to high production rates, helping to keep the overall cost of high-quality forged components affordable. Hydraulic presses have the advantage of variable speed and force throughout the process, allowing greater control of material flow, which can be used to produced forged components with even more precisely controlled physical properties. Wiseco’s isothermal hydraulic press forging machines use precise digital control of the temperature of the raw material, the punch, and the die, as well as the pressure exerted during the full motion of the forge. This allows very close control over the physical properties of the finished forging. Regardless of the type of press, pistons are forged using a “backwards extrusion” process where the material from the slug flows back and around the descending punch to form the cup-shaped forging. Picture the stationary part of the press (the die) as the mirror image of the piston top, and the punch as the mirror image of the underside. As the punch descends, the puck is transformed into the rough piston shape with material flowing up along the sides of the die and punch to form the skirt. This entire process takes place on the scale of milliseconds (on the mechanical press), and the all-important flow stresses of the material are determined by the strain rate (or speed) and load applied by the press. In addition to three mechanical forge presses, Wiseco also has two isothermal hydraulic presses in-house. These state of the art forges maintain the temperature of the piston slug, the die, and the punch very accurately through computer control, delivering more precise dimensions and geometry for the finished pieces, as well as allowing for more complex designs to be successfully forged, and even the creation of metal matrix composite forgings. Once the puck (left) has been transformed into a forged blank (middle), it still has a ways to go before becoming a completed piston (right). The Heat Is On Once the forging process is complete, the components next move to heat treatment. Wiseco’s aerospace-grade heat treatment facility is located in the same plant as the presses, and here the pistons go through a carefully controlled process of heating and cooling that relieves stress induced during forging, increases the overall strength and ductility of the metal, and provides the desired surface hardness characteristics. While casting can deliver parts straight out of the mold that are very close to their final shape, forgings require a bit more attention in order to get them into shape. Fussner explains, “In a dedicated forging for a specific purpose, the interior of the forging blank is at near-net as it comes off the forging press. And in some cases, we also forge the dome near-net with valve pockets and some other features. Other than these items, most other features do require machining.” Pistons aren't the only thing Wiseco forges and machines in-house. Wiseco clutch are also forged and machined, as well as finished with hard anodizing. The forging (left) allows the basket to closer to the final shape before machining. The basket shown here is just post-machining. One basic forging may serve as the starting point for many different types of finished pistons, unlike castings which are typically unique to a single design or a small group of very similar designs. Regardless of the manufacturing method for the piston blank, some degree of final machining needs to take place to create a finished part. “As a ballpark percentage, I would say about 75% of the forging blank would require machining.” Cast pistons also require finish work on the CNC machine, but this is almost always less extensive than a similar forged piston. “That’s the main reason why forged pistons are more expensive than a cast piston,” Fussner adds. Another reason for the added expense of forging is the significant cost of the initial tooling for the die and punch, which must be made to exact specifications and be durable enough to survive countless forging press cycles. Per Fussner, “We control these costs by making all our forging tooling in house at Wiseco headquarters in Mentor, Ohio.” The ability to make their own tooling, doing their own forging, and their in-house heat treatment facilities make Wiseco the only aftermarket forged piston manufacturer in the United States with these unique capabilities. Once the machining process is complete, Wiseco pistons can also receive a number of different proprietary coatings to fine-tune their performance. These include thermal barriers as well as wear reduction treatments. Though forging is a technique literally as old as the Iron Age, it’s still the undisputed king of manufacturing techniques for light, strong, durable components. Wiseco continues to refine the process with the latest methods, materials, heat treatment, and machining to provide the highest quality aftermarket components available, at an affordable price. Wiseco forged pistons provide superior quality and performance at an affordable price thanks to the company’s close control over every step of the manufacturing process.
  2. Whether you're racing or looking for increased performance out on the trail, there are a plethora of performance upgrades to consider to increase the power of your machine. Piston manufacturers like JE Pistons offer high compression piston options for many applications, but there are important merits and drawbacks you should consider when deciding if a high compression piston is right for your application. To better understand, we’ll take a look at what increasing compression ratio does, what effects this has on the engine, detail how high compression pistons are made, and provide a high-level overview of which applications may benefit from utilizing a high compression piston. Bumping up the compression in your motor should be an informed decision. It's important to first understand what effects high-compression has, the anatomy of a high-comp piston, and what applications typically benefit most. Let’s start with a quick review of what the compression ratio is, then we’ll get into how it affects performance. The compression ratio compares the volume above the piston at bottom dead center (BDC) to the volume above the piston at top dead center (TDC). Shown below is the mathematical equation that defines compression ratio: The swept volume is the volume that the piston displaces as it moves through its stroke. The clearance volume is the volume of the combustion chamber when the piston is at top dead center (TDC). There are multiple different dimensions to take into account when calculating clearance volume, but for the sake of keeping this introductory, this is the formula as an overview. When alterations to the compression ratio are made, the clearance volume is reduced, resulting in a higher ratio. Reductions in clearance volume are typically achieved by modifying the geometry of the piston crown so that it occupies more combustion chamber space. Swept volume is the volume displaced as the piston moves through the stroke, and clearance volume is the volume of the combustion chamber with the piston at top dead center. How does an increased compression ratio affect engine performance? To understand how increasing the compression ratio affects performance, we have to start with understanding what happens to the fuel/air mixture on the compression stroke. During the compression stroke, the fuel/air mixture is compressed, and due to thermodynamic laws, the compressed mixture increases in temperature and pressure. Comparatively, increasing the compression ratio over that of a stock ratio, the fuel/air mixture is compressed more, resulting in increased temperature and pressure before the combustion event. The resulting power that can be extracted from the combustion event is heavily dependent on the temperature and pressure of the fuel/air mixture prior to combustion. The temperature and pressure of the mixture before combustion influences the peak cylinder pressure during combustion, as well as the peak in-cylinder temperature. For thermodynamic reasons, increases in peak cylinder pressure and temperature during combustion will result in increased mechanical efficiency, the extraction of more work, and increased power during the power stroke. In summary, the more the fuel/air mixture can be compressed before combustion, the more energy can be extracted from it. Higher compression allows for a larger amount of fuel/air mixture to be successfully combusted, ultimately resulting in more power produced during the power stroke. However, there are limits to how much the mixture can be compressed prior to combustion. If the temperature of the mixture increases too much before the firing of the spark plug, the mixture can auto ignite, which is often referred to as pre-ignition. Another detrimental combustion condition that can also occur is called detonation. Detonation occurs when end gases spontaneously ignite after the spark plug fires. Both conditions put severe mechanical stress on the engine because cylinder pressures far exceed what the engine was designed for, which can damage top end components and negatively affect performance. Detonation and pre-ignition can spike cylinder pressure and temperature, causing damage. Common signs of these conditions include pitting on the piston crown. Now that there is an understanding of what changes occur during the combustion event to deliver increased power, we can look at what other effects these changes have on the engine. Since cylinder pressure is increased, more stress is put on the engine. The amount of additional stress that is introduced is largely dependent on the overall engine setup. Since combustion temperatures increase with increased compression ratio, the engine must also dissipate more heat. If not adequately managed, increased temperatures can reduce the lifespan of top-end components. JE's EN plating is a surface treatment that can protect the piston crown and ring grooves from potential damage caused by high cylinder pressure and temperature. EN can be an asset for longevity in a high-compression race build. Often, additional modifications can be made to help mitigate the side effects of increasing the compression ratio. To help reduce the risk of pre-ignition and detonation, using a fuel with a higher octane rating can be advantageous. Altering the combustion event by increasing the amount of fuel (richening the mixture) and changing the ignition timing can also help. Cooling system improvement can be an effective way to combat the additional heat generated by the combustion event. Selecting larger or more efficient radiators, oil coolers, and water pumps are all options that can be explored. Equipping the engine with a high-performance clutch can help reduce clutch slip and wear which can occur due to the increased power. High-level race team machines are great examples of additional modifications made to compensate for increased stress race engines encounter. Mods include things like larger radiators, race fuel, custom mapping, and performance clutch components. Let’s take a quick look at what considerations are made when designing a high compression piston. Typically, high compression pistons are made by adding dome volume to the piston crown, which reduces the clearance volume at TDC. In some cases, this is difficult to do depending on the combustion chamber shape, size of the valves, or the amount of valve lift. When designing the dome, it is essential to opt for smooth dome designs. Smooth domes as opposed to more aggressively ridged designs are preferred because the latter can result in hot spots on the piston crown, which can lead to pre-ignition. Another common design option is to increase the compression distance, which is the distance from the center of the wrist pin bore to the crown of the piston. In this approach, the squish clearance, which is the clearance between the piston and head, is reduced. Higher compression is commonly achieved by increasing dome volume while retaining smooth characteristics, as pictured here with raised features and deep valve pockets. Compression height can also be increased, which increases the distance between the center of the pin bore and the crown of the piston. A high-level overview of which applications can benefit from increased compression ratio can be helpful when assessing whether a high-compression upgrade is a good choice for your machine. Since increasing the compression ratio increases power and heat output, applications that benefit from the additional power and can cope with additional heat realize the most significant performance gains. Contrarily, applications where the bike is ridden at low speed, in tight conditions, or with lots of clutch use can be negatively impacted by incorporating a high compression piston. Keep in mind these statements are generalizations, and every engine responds differently to increased compression ratios. Below are lists of applications that may benefit from increasing the compression ratio as well as applications where increased compression may negatively influence performance. Applications that may benefit from utilizing a high compression piston: Motocross Supermoto Drag racing Road racing Ice racing Flat track Desert racing Motocross and less technical off-road racing are two of multiple forms of racing in which high-compression pistons can benefit performance due to higher speeds and better air flow to keep the engine cool. Peick photo by Brown Dog Wilson. Applications that may be negatively affected by utilizing a high compression piston: Technical off-road/woods riding Trials Other low speed/cooling applications Lower speed racing and riding may not benefit as much from a high-compression piston, as heat in the engine will build up quicker due to lessened cooling ability. Fortunately, if you’re considering increasing your engine’s compression ratio by utilizing a high compression piston, many aftermarket designs have been tested and optimized for specific engines and fuel octane ratings. For example, JE Pistons offers pistons at incrementally increased compression ratios so that you can incorporate a setup that works best for you. For example, high-compression pistons from JE for off-road bikes and ATVs are commonly available in 0.5 compression ratio increases. Assume an engines stock compression ratio is 13.0:1, there will most likely be options of 13.5:1 and 14.0:1, so that you can make an informed decision on how much compression will benefit you based on your machine and type of riding. From left to right are 13.0:1, 13.5:1, and 14.0:1 compression ratio pistons, all for a YZ250F. Notice the differences in piston dome volume and design. If performance is sufficient at an engine’s stock compression ratio, there are still improvements in efficiency and durability that can be made with a forged piston. Forged pistons have a better aligned alloy grain flow than cast pistons, creating a stronger part more resistant to the stresses of engine operation. In addition to forged material, improvements can be made on piston skirt style design to increase strength over stock designs, such as with JE’s FSR designs. JE also commonly addresses dome design on stock compression pistons, employing smoothness across valve reliefs edges and other crown features to improve flame travel, decrease hot spots, and ultimately increase the engine’s efficiency. Even if stock compression is better for your application; forged construction, stronger skirt designs, and more efficient crown designs can still provide improved performance and durability. If it’s time for a new piston but you’re still not sure what compression ratio to go with, give the folks at JE a call for professional advice on your specific application.
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