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hen talking of the castings that make up the modern

racing engine, the cylinder head and the cylinder
block are those that are the most complex and
which have the most important functions. The
cylinder block normally carries the cylinders and forms at least the
upper portion of the crankcase. In the motorcycle world in particular
it is not uncommon to have a detachable crankcase and in some
instances the cylinders are individually mounted between the head
and the crankcase. Here we will assume that the block carries the
cylinders and forms the upper portion of each crankshaft main bearing
housing as it does in most racecar engines.
We have asked for the opinions and thoughts of many of the major
manufacturers involved in racing, to give you a glimpse of the state
of the art in the manufacture of these components. One fact that will
emerge is that to talk of castings can be misleading, as many suppliers
now offer billet items machined from high quality wrought materials.
On a four-stroke racing engine that is liquid-cooled, particularly
those of the overhead cam type, the cylinder head is commonly the
most complex of the non-rotating components. In addition to having
to contain the incoming charge, combustion products and the large
forces involved in the combustion process, it has to accommodate
the combustion chamber, inlet and exhaust ports, a large part of the
valvetrain, part of the cooling circuit, and lots of lubrication channels.
In addition to these, in Formula One there is the requirement to have
additional passages and galleries concerned with the pneumatic valve
return system (PVRS, also known as air springs). This has not always
been the case though, and in the very early days when engines were
much simpler (especially side-valve engines), the head had little
function other than to contain the combustion forces and was called
a cylinder cover. It is also now quite common for a race engine to
be a semi-stressed or fully stressed member of the car or motorcycle
chassis, and the cylinder head is therefore an important structural
component in its own right.
The cylinder block, in addition to normally providing the bearing
housings for the crankshaft often, but not necessarily, carries liners in
which the pistons work. In recent years, as bespoke racing engines
have become more compact, there has been a tendency for linerless
cylinder blocks, with a bore coating applied directly to the block
Wayne Ward discusses the state
of the art in the technology of
components forming key aspects
of a race engines architecture
Structural symphony
W16 block and sump, with heads ready for tting (courtesy AVL Schrick)
engines for low volume premium products. Even in this fnancially
straitened era, there is a seemingly healthy market for extremely high-
value road cars for well-heeled individuals.
In the majority of cases, and certainly among those foundries
whose opinions we canvassed, sand casting is the preferred method
of manufacture. This method makes economic sense for small to
medium volumes, and it is within this category that the majority of
racing work is placed. The tooling costs, whilst not insignifcant,
are very much lower than would be involved in investment casting.
However, the foundries that we spoke to revealed, unsurprisingly, that
there is constant pressure on them to produce thinner walled castings
and this is one area where sand castings are at a disadvantage to
investment castings. The other area where sand cast components suffer
in comparison with investment castings is in terms of surface fnish,
although there are methods by which this can be improved either as
part of the casting process itself, or by post-treatment.
In sand casting, patterns and moulds are made into which sand
is moulded and solidifed, and it is these sand pieces which defne
the shape of the casting. More often than not these days, the patterns
are CNC machined and the skill and art of pattern-makers is sadly
on the wane. Gone are the days when we could supply a drawing
with external views and a series of representative sections. Pattern-
makers working on cylinder heads, blocks and the like were, and still
are in a small number of cases, very skilled men and once this skill
has been lost, it will be gone forever. It is nowadays common and
accepted practice to supply three-dimensional CAD data direct to the
foundry to allow it to plan the manufacture of the patternwork and
the castings. In some cases, providing that the machined surfaces are
clearly defned, foundries are prepared to accept a model of the fnish-
machined component. In many cases it is accepted that the designer
doesnt know exactly how the complex patternwork tooling will be
rather than to a liner that is inserted into it. While European and
Far Eastern motor manufacturers have moved toward the overhead
camshaft engine, American manufacturers have tended to remain
faithful to the overhead valve engine with the camshaft contained
within the cylinder block. In this case there is a trade-off with
overhead valve engines having a more complex cylinder block and a
less complex cylinder head. The overhead valve engine can, for the
same basic architecture and engine size, offer packaging advantages
owing to the compact nature of the cylinder head.
In common with the cylinder head, the block has to provide part of
the lubrication and cooling circuits for the engine. Again the cylinder
block has an important structural role in terms of being an integral part
of the chassis, and while the cylinder head may not actually have any
chassis or gearbox mounting points, it is very common for the cylinder
block to do so.
Traditionally, the crankshaft has been retained by main bearing caps
fastened to the cylinder block with an oil-pan or sump acting as an oil
reservoir and cover ftted afterwards. Many modern racing applications
have dispensed with the main bearing caps, and integrate these within
a cast sump or lower crankcase which is line-bored as an assembly
with the cylinder block. Deep-skirt cylinder blocks extend below the
crankshaft axis and still retain the traditional main bearing caps. In
these cases the retention of oil within the engine is looked after by
what is essentially a fat plate. A mid-way point between these two
concepts is to have the fat sump base plate and the main bearing
caps integrated into a single ladder frame.
Similarly with overhead cam cylinder heads, there has been a trend
to dispense with cam bearing caps and integrate this function within
the cam cover. In many cases, overhead cam cylinder heads have
traditionally been designed as
two castings, with the upper part,
referred to as the cam carrier being
a separate component. A recent
trend in race engine design has
been to incorporate the two into
a single, more complex casting.
This has the advantage of a less
complex tolerance stack up, and
possibly increased engine stiffness
as a result of having less bolted
joints within the engine.
The majority of cylinder blocks
and cylinder heads are cast
components. There are a large
number of foundries that deal with
race engine components and some
that deal almost exclusively with
racing customers, perhaps only
dealing with series production
Partly assembled sand cores and mouldings for
V6 cylinder block (courtesy of GPD Developments)
split and in which direction it will be assembled. Therefore the casting
supplier often has some work to do in applying the correct draught to
the casting models.
One of the new technologies being found in the feld of casting
technologies is that of printed sand patterns. This is essentially a rapid-
prototyping technology applied to the manufacture of castings. There
is therefore the opportunity to easily change the design of the castings
between production runs, or in theory, for each individual casting.
While from the perspective of the designer this can sound like an ideal
world, there is the danger that anything other than a subtle change
might cause problems. In speaking to casting suppliers, it is clear that
casting is anything but an exact science. While there may be some
general rules which can be followed, when a new casting is initially
manufactured, there is a phase called casting development where
problems are ironed-out in the same way that we overcome initial
problems when we frst run an
engine. This might involve changes
to the patterns, the system of feeds
for the molten alloy, or the addition
of chills to increase the mechanical
properties in certain areas. These
chills cause faster cooling rates in
certain areas of the casting.
The casting development
process also seeks to ensure the
accuracy and integrity of the
casting. Accuracy is checked by
normal dimensional inspection
techniques, plus a 100% marking
out of all machined features
before delivery of any castings
to the customer. In terms of
ensuring integrity, there are a
number of measures that can be
taken. Commonly castings are
sectioned and visually checked,
with additional work done using a
microscope to check that porosity
is minimal in stressed sections.
Castings are also sometimes subjected to x-rays (in the same way that
broken people are) to check for large scale defects.
Modern technology has advanced this quality control further.
For some time it has been possible to have castings examined using
the same CT scanning techniques that are used medically. Once
again this is an x-ray technique, but it gives much more information,
and is more easily understood than simple pictures. It is possible to
construct a three-dimensional model of the casting, and to compare
this to the customers initial casting model. The technique can also be
used to detect defects in the casting at levels which were previously
unachievable, and subsequent casting development can be undertaken
to eradicate these. One well-known supplier of racing castings,
currently supplying castings to Formula One as well as other major
race series worldwide has a CT scanning facility at its works and now
commonly uses this as a 100% quality check for all castings of a
particular type.
Casting has traditionally been of the gravity type, whereby molten
metal is introduced at the top of the mould and is fed by gravity to
the rest of the moulding. Some years ago (thirty-one to be precise)
Cosworth developed a casting process that eliminated a lot of the
problems with conventional gravity sand castings in aluminium.
Besides a great pedigree in engine design, this company has been a
great innovator in manufacturing. The process, now commonly known
as the Coscast process, is now quite common in racing owing to
its lower defect level and greater ability to produce thinner walled
castings. It is particularly noted for the decrease in hydrogen porosity.
The Coscast process uses gas pressure to force molten metal through
the bottom of the mould. The metal is drawn from the bottom of a
vessel containing the molten alloy, and this is the reason why there are
Machined from solid Chevrolet V8 cylinder block (courtesy Dart Machinery)
Cast Aluminium Ford V8 Block (courtesy Dart Machinery)
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RET_ADTEMP.indd 1 29/10/09 20:17:09
lower levels of alumina inclusions.
In terms of ensuring casting integrity a process known as hot
isostatic pressing (HIP) is used to help close small voids in the casting
and to increase density. More than one of those canvassed used
almost the same words in describing the usefulness of the process
it will make a good casting a little better, but it will not turn a
poor casting into a good one. Before deciding to specify HIP to
your existing casting specifcation, you should be aware that it will
dimensionally change the part and, on a block or head, that change
will be signifcant. There is a greater shrinkage allowance made at the
patternmaking stage for castings that are HIP treated, so this needs to
be specifed at the design stage. Fatigue properties are thought to be
improved by using the HIP process.
We should note that aluminium investment castings have been used
successfully for racing applications for cylinder blocks, and possibly
heads, using the Sophia casting process. This process offers, relative
to sand-casting, thinner walls and better mechanical properties owing
to rapid solidifcation of the material.
For billet blocks, there are no such worries over integrity
(assuming billet quality is good), and the mechanical strength of
these parts is excellent. Owing to the fact that there are very few
metallurgical problems with good quality wrought material, fatigue
strength is also excellent. Little wonder that they are popular in drag
racing and increasingly in other race series too. Some people even
specify billet cylinder blocks for highly up-rated road cars. There are
clearly compromises which have to be made in using a machined
from solid cylinder block. We need to accept that we cannot have the
complicated internal features that are easily incorporated in castings,
and that tool access will necessarily limit where we can remove
unwanted metal from. However, in all other areas, wall thickness is
limited only by the skills of the machinist and the accuracy of the
machine tools used in manufacture.
There have been some attempts and design studies done into the
manufacture of overhead-cam cylinder heads machined from wrought
material. There have been a number of successful single cylinder
applications, particularly for test applications. It is felt to be possible
to produce a reasonably complex cylinder head for multi-cylinder
applications from solid, even incorporating water cooling, although
some compromises would have to be made in the complexity of the
design of coolant passages and so forth. The obvious advantages of
this type of manufacture are repeatability and material properties, but
this would come at the expense of increased machining time and cost.
One company we spoke to for this article has already developed billet
heads for overhead valve applications for extreme stress use. These
have also taken advantage of bespoke material, such is the nature of
the application.
On the subject of machining, we should acknowledge the increase
in accuracy that CNC machine tools have brought to the machining
of heads and blocks, whether machined from solid or produced
from castings. In conjunction with the explosion of affordable
CNC machine tools and the number of skilled operators, tooling
development means that machining quality is now excellent and
surface fnish is better than ever. Accuracy is taking another step
forward with greater application of probing on the machine tool,
where the dimensional accuracy of the machining is checked during
the manufacture of the part rather than afterwards.
CNC machining has brought a great advantage to the engine
developer who manually develops ports by the process of hand-
fettling. It is now possible to have his or her ideal port inspected,
and from this data a 3D representation produced which can then be
repeated in each port of countless cylinder heads. There are a number
of companies who specialise in just this kind of work on both sides
of the Atlantic. Closely allied to manufacturing is design and the new
CAD/CAM software was mentioned as leading to improvements in
product design, manufacture and also manufacturing effciency.
While there is less material removal involved in the machining
An aluminium V8 block, chromate treated before machining (courtesy Dart Machinery)
of castings, and normally less machining time involved, there is
an additional stage owing to the inherent variability of the casting
process. Each individual casting has to be balanced, which is a
process whereby the machine operator has to mark out each casting
individually to ensure that the machine features are as central as
possible within the material to ensure suffcient wall thickness after
machining. In assembling the sand pieces that make up the mould,
there is invariably some variation in the positioning of the pieces. This
leads to some variation from piece to piece, and the best compromise
needs to be made in each case in deciding where to machine the
datum features.
In general, for block and head we will be talking of two main groups
of materials: aluminium and cast iron. Cast iron is the more traditional
of the two materials and is still used today for both race and road
applications. However, aluminium has supplanted cast iron to a large
extent as the push for lower overall engine weight continues. There
have been some attempts to use other materials with varying degrees
of success.
Magnesium has been tried on occasion for cylinder blocks, with
some experimental Formula One V10 blocks being cast some time
ago but these were not a successful venture. While I am not aware of
any engine manufacturer having used a magnesium cylinder head in
recent times, there may be advantages beyond lower mass to using
this material, although there would undoubtedly be problems to
overcome before it could be successfully used. This advance will not
come from Formula One, which was previously the natural home
of such innovation (especially given its large development budgets)
because todays materials regulations specifcally proscribe the use of
The fantastically adventurous Polimotor sports-prototype race
engine from the mid eighties used a polymer matrix composite
cylinder block with reasonable success. It is a shame that this
project did not go further, as it undoubtedly could have done if such
development had been funded.
In terms of cast aluminium, the traditional grade, used for many
years was LM25/L99 UK specifcation and A356, the equivalent US
specifcation. This has, for blocks and heads at least, been replaced
in large part by L169/ A357. The latter alloy offers better mechanical
properties than A356 and also better fatigue properties. There is always
a compromise, and A357 has lower elongation than A356, which can
mean that some machining operations can be slightly more diffcult.
C355 was also mentioned by some of our sources as an alloy with
merit, benefting from better properties than the default A356.
Mention was also made of the benefts of using virgin or primary
material. There is a cost beneft to using material with a percentage of
secondary or scrap material, but herein also lies risk. The secondary
material, even though it is of the same or very similar chemical
composition may contain unwanted contaminants, which would
compromise the integrity and strength of the casting produced.
Moreover, casting sand does not always remain where it should, i.e.
at the foundry. It is still common, albeit less so of late, to fnd some
small pieces of sand retained within the internal cavities of the casting.
These can cause problems in use if they become detached when the
engine is run, blocking lubricant passages, damaging bearings and
other components and so forth. However, it is quite possible for sand
to remain attached throughout the life of the engine and to cause
us no problems at all. If these engine parts are then re-melted, the
sand is then released into the melt alloy and can fnd its way into the
casting, particularly in the case of gravity castings. A particle or lump
of sand will act as a stress concentration, markedly diminishing the
fatigue properties of the casting. The use of virgin casting material,
unadulterated by scrap casting material and any sand trapped within
precludes this problem.
For very high performance applications people are starting to look
beyond the A3xx series alloys and to the A2xx series. These are more
exotic alloys and more expensive than the A3xx alloys. According to
our sources, they are also more diffcult alloys to obtain high integrity
parts from. However, in doing so, the prize is signifcantly higher
mechanical properties both at room temperature and at elevated
temperatures. As an example of this type of alloy, compared to A356-
T7, A201-T7 has approximately
70% higher yield strength at room
temperature (ref 1).
Cast iron has been losing
market share for very many years,
but recent developments have
brought it back into favour for
some applications, even for series
production applications. Many
recent high-specifcation road
cars have cast-iron blocks again.
The reason for this is the advent
of vermicular or compacted
graphite iron (often simply called
CGI). Vermicular means worm-
like and is used to describe the
material structure. Compacted
W16 cylinder block assembled
with sump, undergoing CMM
inspection (courtesy AVL Schrick)
graphite iron contains small additions of magnesium, which is
drawn to and then effectively envelopes the graphite within the cast
iron, allowing it to form the worm-like shape (the vermicular term,
which is much more descriptive once you realise its origin, refers to
the graphite within the iron).
One of the companies we spoke to explained that the graphite
worms form an interlocking structure, and it is this which gives
compacted graphite iron its strength. There are race series where cast
iron is mandated for use in engine blocks, and here CGI has become
the material of choice, owing to its signifcantly increased strength
compared to traditional grey cast iron. One supplier of heads that
supplies a wide range of race series specifes CGI for extreme stress
applications and conventional grey cast iron for more normal use,
and stated that the mechanical properties of CGI compared with his
usual grey iron are increased dramatically.
At the moment, some people are simply substituting CGI for grey
iron, effectively giving a greater factor of safety against failure. As
time progresses, people will really begin to take full advantage of
CGIs material properties, and this is being done in some of the more
advanced racing applications. NASCAR Cup engines are thought to use
CGI exclusively for cylinder blocks,
and these will, without doubt,
have been developed to take best
advantage of the properties of the
material. There is some anecdotal
evidence supporting the suggestion
that CGI crankcases have been
used in Grand Prix motorcycle road
racing, although possibly not in the
last few years.
One foundry expert stated that
it is important how the magnesium
is incorporated within the cast
iron and in particular care has
to be taken to develop a method
of doing so which ensures an
homogenous distribution of the
magnesium. If the melt is not
uniform, there will be parts of it
that do not produce the enhanced
vermicular structure, and some
components will have a grey
iron structure, which will have
approximately half the strength of
the desired CGI material. Clearly
for highly stressed parts which have
been designed to take advantage of
the material properties of CGI, this
would be disastrous.
Particularly in the case of cylinder
heads, there are inserts, which are
ftted as the parent metal is unsuitable in some cases for the function
that it must fulfl. For cylinder heads, these inserts are generally the
valve seats and guides. For racing the seats are traditionally bronze
materials, and those canvassed for this article use a wide range of
materials. For the highest specifcations, beryllium-copper alloys seem
most popular. Copper-beryllium would be a more accurate description
of these materials, as they only contain small proportions of the
expensive addition of beryllium. It is common for the inlet and exhaust
seats to be made of different alloys, with a higher conductivity alloy
often used for exhaust seat applications.
Series production road cars have, in many cases, dispensed with
the ftting of seat inserts and instead employ a sprayed metal seat,
which is deposited onto the casting. This has been employed in some
racing applications, particularly, it would seem, by those racing
organisations funded directly by major motor manufacturers. The
amount of investment required is large, and while this can be justifed
in the case of large-volume series production runs, the economic case
for this technology in racing is hard to make. It does allow the valves
to be run a little closer together and where people are trying to ft the
very largest valves into a limited space, it can offer an advantage.
Machined Honda inline 4 head (courtesy Dart Machinery)
Part-machined inline 4 cylinder head (courtesy of GPD Developments)
High Power Media, the publisher of Race Engine Technology, the new
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out for freelance/part-time and possibly full time technical writers to join our team.
Working from home or out of our Somerset, England ofces the ideal candidates will
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RET_ADTEMP.indd 1 30/10/09 16:41:11
In terms of valve guides, similar materials are often used, namely
bronze alloys. There have been various attempts to use other materials
for this application and, as ever, there have been varying degrees of
success. Attempts at using coated aluminium rely on the valve guide
bore not having to be machined afterwards, or need a relatively
thick coating to be used which allows some material removal. This
is diffcult where thin valve stems are utilised, as is generally the
case in racing. Polymer guides have been tried with some success. A
promising avenue of development appears to be aluminium guides
manufactured from a different material to the head casting. Special
purpose alloys exist which can be successfully used uncoated for
racing valve guide applications.
The decision on whether to machine the valve guide fush with
the inside surface of the port is felt to depend on the unsupported
length of the valve. There seem to be a pretty even proportion of
people who feel that the small penalty in fow coeffcient is worth
paying for the increased reliability, and those who feel that maximum
fow coeffcient is king and that guide should be machined fush with
the inside of the port.
In terms of coatings, the main application is the cylinder bore coating.
For aluminium blocks a coating is normally, but not necessarily
required, to produce a satisfactory surface within which the piston can
slide. The main group of bore coatings are reasonably hard metallic
coatings with harder particles or ceramic present within the coating.
Nikasil and NiCom are examples of these metal-ceramic composite
coatings, which are widely used for racing and other applications.
After coating the bore is fnish honed to size in the same way that cast
iron bores would normally be.
There have been attempts to apply modern hard coatings to cylinder
bores in an attempt to reduce friction, although their application is not
widespread. Coating experts quizzed by us on this application felt it
not to be a worthwhile experiment but never say never!
Independent of design features, the production of cylinder heads and
blocks continues to advance as new manufacturing and materials
technologies come along. More capable materials and improvements
in processing and machining accuracy mean that the cylinder blocks
and heads produced today can be made lighter and handle more stress
than those made only a few years ago.
Fonderie Messier
+33 (05) 59 82 59 70
Becker Cad Cam Cast GmbH
+49 6465 91430
KSM Castings
+49 5121 505160
+44 1954 253600
GPD Developments
+44 2476 351227
Grainger & Worrall
+44 1746 768250
Air Flow Research
+1 661 257 8124
AJPE (Alan Johnson Performance Engineering)
+1 805 922 1202
All Pro Cylinder Heads
+1 740 967 7761
Anhared Powertrain Components
+1 860 243 3075
Brad Anderson Enterprise
+1 909 923 1028
+1 479 394 1075
CFE Racing Products Inc
+1 586 7736310
Dart Machinery
+1 248 362 1188
Donovan Engineering
+1 310 320 3772
+1 310 781 2222
Keith Black Race Engines
+1 562 869 1518
LSM Systems Engineering
+1 248 674 4967
+1 704 662 7901
RHS (Racing Head Service)
+1 877 776 4323
Trick Flow Specialities
+1 330 630 1555
World Products
+1 631 981 1918 REFERENCES
1. Kaufman, J.G. and Rooy, E.L. Aluminum Alloy Castings:
Properties, Processes and Applications, ASM International ISBN:
2. Davis, J.R. (editor) ASM Handbook Volume 8 Aluminum and
Aluminum Alloys, ASM International, ISBN: 087170496X
4. Smithells, C.J. Smithells Metals Reference Book, Butterworth
Heinemanns, ISBN: 0750-67509-8
RET_ADTEMP.indd 1 29/10/09 20:18:29
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