Advanced Coating Technology

Swain Tech has developed and applied high-tech coatings for engine and exhaust parts for more than two decades. Some companies have tried to imitate Swain Tech Coatings by offering commercially available coatings under the guise of high performance. The results of these inferior materials are often poor bonding and durability, which has tended to hurt the industry as a whole. It’s kind of like the stigma nitrous had 15 years ago. And as with nitrous, the uninformed enthusiast still believes the stories associated with the inferior quality and “do it yourself” internal engine coatings. Swain Tech’s coatings simply work. Their advanced materials and application techniques result in thermal barrier and friction reducing coatings, which are unmatched for performance and durability. Now, when you consider that most of the top NASCAR, Indy Car and Top Fuel teams (and even a few OEM’s) use several types of coatings in their engines, coatings have certainly proven themselves. You owe it to yourself to take a look at what’s available for your high performance motor.

There are three main types of coatings, and their names are self explanatory. Thermal barrier coatings hold heat in, low-friction coatings remove power-robbing and heat inducing friction, and heat-dissipating coatings let heat out. Virtually any part can be coated to improve its performance. Let’s start with the thermal barrier coatings

Piston Examples

Advanced Coating Technology Coated and Non Coated
Both of these pistons have been run for extended periods under full race conditions. The coolant was removed and the motor continued to run under race settings until it blew. The piston on the left was not coated and completely destroyed and the cylinder bore and head were severely damaged. The coated piston on the right suffered virtually no damage.

Head Examples

Advanced Coating Technology Heads and Piston
Coated pistons, combustion chambers, valves and exhaust ports all increase power and improve durability.

Heat makes power. The more heat you can generate, the more power an engine will make. Unfortunately, the internal combustion engine is terribly inefficient when it comes to managing heat, using only about 25% of the heat energy created by the combustion process. Most of the energy escapes through the exhaust system or is absorbed into the engine and removed by the cooling system. Obviously, you can’t eliminate the exhaust system, and the cooling system is mandatory to keep the internal parts from melting or coming apart due to extreme heat levels. The only thing we can do to make an optimized engine more efficient is to more effectively contain and manage the heat energy that’s made when combustion occurs. That is the purpose of thermal barrier coatings.

TBCTM is most commonly applied to the top of the piston and to the combustion chamber and valve faces in the cylinder head. TBCTM holds more heat in the chamber, instead of letting it dissipate through the piston, valves, and head (where it is then absorbed by the cooling system). This increases cylinder pressure and pushes harder on the piston, resulting in more power. TBCTM also protects pistons from intense heat, so the air/fuel mixture can be leaned for maximum power without burning through the piston. And, since the amount of heat radiated into the rest of the engine is reduced (by containing the heat in the chamber), the operating temperatures of the engine come down. This is also beneficial to the piston rings, improving their radial tension and sealing ability. TBCTM is also used on intake and exhaust ports to improve scavenging and lower the under hood temperature. It also is used on the underside of intake manifolds to keep hot oil from elevating the intake charge temperature.

Exhaust Example Image

Advanced Coating Technology Exhaust
Swain Tech’s White Lightning™ ceramic thermal barrier for exhaust parts is the only true insulating coating available. There is typically 35-55% less heat radiating from a Swain Tech Coated Header.

TBCTM is approximately .002″ thick, so rarely does any compensation need to be made during the machining process-unless of course the pistons are at zero-deck before coating. The coating is permanently bonded to the part.

Other companies apply cosmetic header coatings that have minimal effects on heat insulation and instead are purely for cosmetics. These header coatings are shiny or colored and really will not improve performance, but they do look nice. Swain Tech Coatings is the only company to offer a true insulating thermal barrier for exhaust parts. This external thermal barrier is applied approximately .012″ thick, has a white matte finish and does a tremendous job of keeping the heat inside of the pipes to improve scavenging and reduce under hood temperatures.

Low friction coatings, also known as dry-film lubricants, are split into two types: self-lubricating and oil-shedding. The self-lubricating type of dry film is applied to piston skirts, engine bearings, valve springs, valve stems, camshaft lobes, wrist pins, and oil and fuel pumps – just to name the engine related parts. Swain Tech Coatings has specific formulations for each type of friction. Poly Moly™ and PC-9TM are used for sliding friction and Peko Poly Moly™ is for rotational friction. These materials hold oil on the surface of the part and have a very low coefficient of friction. Applied to a piston, the dry film reduces piston to cylinder bore friction, which also reduces bore wear.

Another application where the Poly Moly™ coating shines is on valve springs. Test have shown that uncoated valve springs can run 30 degrees hotter than the engine oil, while Poly Moly™ on the springs bring the temperature down about 20 degrees, which dramatically increases the life of the spring, allowing it to maintain tension longer. The Poly Moly™ PC-9TM and Peko Poly Moly™ dry film coatings are especially helpful in situations where a part is momentarily starved of oil. These coatings are typically less than .001″ thick, so there’s usually no need to compensate for them during machining.

The oil shedding type of dry film is used on connecting rods and crankshaft counterweights to reduce windage, as well as in engine block lifter valleys and oil pans to aid in oil drain back. This coating is a non-stick coating causing the oil to bead up on the surface and preventing it from sticking.

The third type of coating is for heat dissipation. Swain Tech’s BBETM (Black Body Emitter) heat dissipating coating uses high emissivity materials such as copper oxides, vanadium, and some ceramics that radiate heat from a surface. Applied to the exterior surfaces of brake rotors, intake manifolds, heads, intercoolers, engine blocks, and many other parts, this coating gets heat out of a part. The coating is an attractive satin black, functional and very durable.

D. J. Racing Team Corvette

Advanced Coating Technology
Swain Tech is proud to supply the D.J. Racing Enterprises Team with advanced coatings to allow them to go harder and faster than the competition. Look for these Corvettes in victory lane at some of the greatest tracks in North America. 

Every internal engine part can benefit from some type of coating, but the largest benefits are realized by treating the pistons, combustion chambers, valves, exhaust ports, headers, bearings and valve springs. For the performance engine builder on a budget, these are areas that will give the most bang for the buck from both horsepower and durability standpoints.

At this point, you’re probably wondering how much all of this will cost, and what its worth. Well, price is relative to the value you place on durability and that last bit of ultimate power. To fully coat an engine, including pistons, combustion chambers, headers, bearings and valve springs, will run you less than $1,000 and typically provides a power increase of 2-5%. However, horsepower isn’t the only benefit of these coatings. Rather, long term durability is another significant advantage of these advanced materials. There are three reasons for engine coatings: to improve power (thermal efficiency), reduce friction and to improve the durability of the engine. If the motor goes way lean at the big end, chances are you’ll burn a piston or two and maybe even take out something bigger. Temporary oil starvation, even for a second, will create a box of broken parts.

An engine treated with quality Swain Tech’s coatings makes more power and has a much better chance of coming through a catastrophe alive, and chances are the major parts can be used again, saving significant money at rebuild time. Also, there are no drawbacks or compromises to coatings. Ask yourself how much your engine is worth and then you will likely decide that coatings are for you.

Thanks to Rob Kinnan for his technical input.