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Chapter 8

The 4 Stroke Medium Speed

Engine Piston
Pistons for medium speed 4 stroke engines are
different in design from their crosshead engine
The top end of the connecting rod swings about the
piston or gudgeon pin located in the piston skirt.
The piston skirt or piston trunk gives rise to the name
trunk piston.
The purpose of this skirt or trunk in four-stroke cycle
engines is to act in a similar manner to a
It takes the thrust caused by connecting-rod
angularity and transmits it to the side of the
cylinder liner, in the same way as the crosshead
slipper transmits the thrust to the crosshead guide.
With such engines, which are termed trunk-piston
engines, the engine height is considerably reduced
compared with that of a crosshead engine of similar
power and speed.
The engine-manufacturing costs are also
For engines which burn distillate fuels (MDO,
Gas Oil), the piston can be manufactured in
one piece either of spheroidal graphite cast
iron or a silicon aluminium alloy.
Cast iron is generally used for smaller engines.
It is strong, wear resistant, and has an
expansion rate similar to that of the liner,
which means the clearance between piston
and liner remain constant throughout the
operating range of the engine.
Because cast iron is heavy, on larger engines
the high inertial forces at change of direction
between exhaust and inlet strokes lead to
increased bearing loading and stresses in the
bottom end bolts.
Aluminium alloy is light, and therefore has low
inertia, reducing bearing loading.
It work hardens to give good wearing surfaces.
It has a relatively high coefficient of expansion
which mean there is increased risk of siezure if
overheated, therefore larger working clearances
when cold are required.
At low loads this increased clearance can lead to
piston slap.
Aluminium suffers from carbon build up which
could lead to burning of the piston crown.
Ring grooves, especially the top ones, are subject
to high wear rates, necessitating cast in ring
The pictures below illustrate an aluminium alloy
piston from a Pielstick PC2 engine designed to burn
distillate fuel.
It has a cast iron insert for the top compression ring
and a cast in cooling coil to circulate the oil to cool
the crown.
The crown of the piston is shaped to allow for the
open valves as the piston passes over TDC on the
exhaust stroke.
This shaping also causes the air to move rapidly
toward the centre, which aids better mixing with
the fuel, leading to complete combustion.

One piece pistons are not suitable for burning heavy

residual fuels; the higher temperatures at which
they burn reduce strength and resistance to
Pistons designed to burn residual fuels are made
in two pieces, known as composite pistons.
Composite Pistons with a crown of alloy steel
containing chromium and molybdenum and a
skirt of cast iron or aluminium are generally the
choice for highly rated medium speed engines
burning residual fuels.
The piston ring grooves in the crown can be
induction hardened or chromium plated.
The composite design using aluminium alloy for
the skirt, gives a strong light structure, capable
of resisting high temperatures, but with
reduced bearing loading.
As in the one piece design, skirt/liner clearances
must be made larger than for cast iron skirts,
which may lead to piston slap at low loads.
The sketches below and opposite are of a composite
piston of the type fitted to the MAN B&W L58/64
It has an alloy steel crown containing chromium and
molybdenum to give increased strength and resist
corrosion at high temperatures. Suitable for burning
residual fuels.
The aluminium alloy skirt (subject to lower thermal
and mechanical loads) is light and has low inertia,
reducing stress reversal on bottom end bolts.
As with many pistons for large marine diesel engines,
the gudgeon pin floats in the piston skirt, retained
by cir clips and lubricated by the oil as it returns
from the piston cooling space.
The oil control ring situated at the top of the
skirt scrapes any excess oil on the liner
back to the crankcase.
The large diameter gudgeon (piston) pin
and large bearing surface keeps bearing
loads to acceptable limits, eliminating
edge loading due to bending of pin.
The oil is directed into the cooling space by
means of a spring loaded oil catcher which
slides across the top of the conrod as it
swings about the gudgeon pin.
All pistons, in effect, are cooled when heat
flows from the combustion side of the piston
crown to anything in contact with it which is
at a lower temperature.
In small engines the heat flows from the upper
part of the piston crown to the lower side of
the crown and the walls or sides of the
The heat is taken away partly through the
cylinder liner by conduction, and partly into
the air in the crank case by radiation and
Oil splashed off the bearings onto the
underside of the piston removes a large
amount of heat by conduction.
The heat passing into the piston crown is
dissipated at a rate such that the
temperature of the piston material does not
rise to the point at which its strength is
reduced below allowable limits, or causes
breakdown in the lubrication of the piston
and piston rings.
In large engines oil must be circulated to
remove the larger amount of heat
This can be done by one of the following
1. Some of the oil led up the connecting rod to
the top end bearing is sprayed onto the
underside of the piston crown.
2. Oil is circulated through a mild steel coiled tube
which is cast into position during manufacture of
the piston. Oil circulation is from the main
bearings, via passages drilled in the crankshaft to
bottom end bearings and then up a bore in the
connecting rod to a passage in the hollow
gudgeon pin. It passes to the coil from one end of
the pin and returns through the other end.
3 Oil from the gudgeon pin passes into cooling
spaces within the piston crown, where cooling is
effected by the shaker method due to the
reciprocating action of the piston. The oil drains
back through the skirt to the crankcase. Because
of the swinging motion of the connecting rod,
some form of catcher may be arranged to allow
the piston crown to be supplied continuously with
If cooling is not supplied in sufficient quantity
or there is a build up of carbon on the
underside of the piston crown which acts as
an insulating layer, then the piston crown
will overheat leading to weakening of the
material, erosion, thermal stressing and
possible cracking of the crown. Overheating
will cause more oil to carbonise on the
cooling surface increasing the thickness of
the insulating layer and exagerating the
situation. Unlike slow speed two stroke
engines, no record is usually taken of
piston oil return temperatures.
The floating gudgeon pin is a common feature of
medium speed marine diesel engines.
This allows better alignment of the small end
bearing with decreased wear.
The pin is a clearance fit in the skirt and retained
by circlips or an end plate.
Because the bores in the skirt now act as bearing
surfaces, oil is supplied from the con rod top
bearing or piston cooling supply.
In the example shown, the pin is hollow with an
insert which allows distribution of oil to the top
end bearing and to the skirt bearing surfaces.
On a piston fitted with a floating gudgeon
pin, the oil scraper ring will be fitted at the
top of the skirt, to remove the excess oil
passing through the ends of the pin onto
the liner wall.
Skirt lubrication brings the lubricating oil
through to the piston skirt via drilling
Positioned above the gudgeon pin and
below the oil scraper ring, the oil is
distributed around the skirt by a
circumferential groove. Ensures adequate
lubrication of skirt and liner at side thrust
transmission point and reduces the need
for separate cylinder lubrication via the