• Cosworth uses Materion’s Metal Matrix Composite (MMC) pistons to meet stringent weight and performance targets in Gordon Murray Automotive (GMA) T.50 engine.
  • Pistons are the key to the T.50 engine’s ability to hit a maximum speed of 12,000rpm and highest specific output of any road-going naturally aspirated engine.
  • MMC pistons also helping to transform F1 podium technology into road-legal Lanzante TAG Turbo engines.

Global technology company Cosworth has expanded its industry-leading range of pistons through a collaboration with advanced materials supplier, Materion, that sees Cosworth produce and machine Metal Matrix Composite (MMC) pistons for the automotive sector.

Cosworth’s MMC pistons have already helped to deliver superlative performance in the all-new Gordon Murray Automotive T.50 supercar, which boasts a maximum speed of 12,000rpm and produces the highest specific output of any road-going naturally aspirated engine at 166PS-per-litre.

Underpinning Cosworth’s reputation yet further is the inclusion of its MMC pistons in the Lanzante TAG Turbo project, transforming historic podium winning F1 engines into usable, roadgoing vehicles.

Cosworth’s wealth of knowledge and experience in piston development and manufacture has long positioned the company as the first port-of-call for many leading OE manufacturers. With increasing demand for high-level components, the company took steps to ensure that its reputation was strengthened with state-of-the-art solutions.

Working with Materion, Cosworth’s move to Metal Matrix Composites has allowed the company to move away from the traditional metal billets, forgings and castings that are not suited to the demands of tomorrow’s high-performance engines.

Materion’s SupremEX® composite combines ultrafine silicon carbide reinforcement with aerospace aluminium alloys. The result is a composite that is superior to conventional alloys, combining the lightweight properties of aluminium with outstanding strength and stiffness.

SupremEX pistons can be used to replace aluminium, titanium, steel and other structural alloys and composites. The specific stiffness of SupremEX exceeds that of other piston materials by at least 40%, allowing for a significant reduction in reciprocating mass.

The reinforced structure of MMC pistons minimises wear at critical interfaces, compared to conventional aluminium piston alloys, for example, and offers a 25% lower coefficient of thermal expansion. This in turn allows tighter control of piston to liner clearance reducing piston slap, blow-by-oil carry over and crevice volume, providing increased efficiency.

Higher working temperatures and combustion pressures can be achieved due to greater fatigue resistance (at running temperatures, more than double that of conventional aluminium alloys), with lower coefficient of friction and increased wear resistance contributing to improved combustion efficiency, brake specific fuel consumption and hydro-carbon emissions.

The MMC pistons are crucial components that have enabled Cosworth to engineer such an advanced lightweight V12 engine for the GMA T.50. The pistons are key to the engine’s ability to hit a maximum speed of 12,000rpm and produce the highest specific output of any road-going naturally aspirated engine at 166PS-per-litre.

Cosworth Principal Engineer, John Heath, said: “For the GMA V12 engine, with its ability to run at speeds in excess of 12,000rpm, the SupremEX material allowed us to design an extremely lightweight piston, utilising the material’s excellent strength at high temperatures. This reduction in weight has the added benefit of allowing other components within the cranktrain to also have lower mass and reduced friction, which are essential characteristics when delivering an engine with such a high specific power output.”

These pistons are also an integral feature of the Lanzante TAG Turbo project. 11 mid-80s F1 Turbocharged V6 engines have been worked into the back of the very limited TAG 930s. The 1.5 litre engines secured 9 podiums in the 1984 F1 season, including a win at Brands Hatch at the hands of Niki Lauda.

Lanzante reached out to Cosworth to rework the 1000hp+ V6 into a reliable, useable, road-going engine. The result is 503hp and 420Nm of torque with a rev limit if 9,000rpm, making these extremely limited engines the highest revving turbocharged power units used in a road-legal car. An unachievable feat without the development of the MMC piston’s unique structure yielding high strength whilst remaining very lightweight.

Cosworth’s Managing Director of Powertrain, Bruce Wood said: “Cosworth has produced pistons for our own applications and customer projects for decades. We specialise in high-performance forged pistons for applications as diverse as our small, 2-stroke diesel drone engine to our current hypercar engines for Aston Martin and Gordon Murray Automotive. Every piston design needs to balance performance with durability, and we are delighted to be working with Materion to harness their unique material properties to push the boundaries of what we can deliver.”

Materion’s Global Market Director, Dave Krus said: “Since the invention of SupremEX MMC and its successful run as pistons in Formula 1 racing, engine designers worldwide have recognized the material as a key to increased efficiency. To make the technology accessible to the broader automotive market, Materion’s Technology and Innovation experts have continued to develop ways to reduce cost and improve machinability. However, it took the pioneering engineers at Cosworth to design and implement pistons that fully demonstrate the material’s potential.  We’re proud to be working alongside them.”