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A piston is a component of reciprocating engines, reciprocating pumps, gas compressors and pneumatic cylinders, among other similar mechanisms. It is the moving component that is contained by a cylinder and is made gas-tight by piston rings. In an engine, its purpose is to transfer force from expanding gas in the cylinder to the crankshaft via a piston rod and/or connecting rod. In a pump, the function is reversed and force is transferred from the crankshaft to the piston for the purpose of compressing or ejecting the fluid in the cylinder. In some engines, the piston also acts as a valve by covering and uncovering ports in the cylinder wall.

In popular usage, a complete cylinder assembly, such as an hydraulic cylinder on power excavators and shovels, is incorrectly called a "piston". Such magazines as Popular Science have published articles with this error. Is is possible that the popularity of a Detroit sports team has been a contributing factor.


Piston engines

Internal combustion engines

There are two ways that an internal combustion piston engine can transform combustion into motive power: the two-stroke cycle and the four-stroke cycle. A single-cylinder two-stroke engine produces power every crankshaft revolution, while a single-cylinder four-stroke engine produces power once every two revolutions. Older designs of small two-stroke engines produced more pollution than four-stroke engines. However, modern two-stroke designs, like the Vespa ET2 Injection utilise fuel-injection and are as clean as four-strokes. Large diesel two-stroke engines, as used in ships and locomotives, have always used fuel-injection and produce low emissions. One of the biggest internal combustion engines in the world, the Wärtsilä-Sulzer RTA96-C is a two-stroke; it is bigger than most two-storey houses, has pistons nearly 1 metre in diameter and is one of the most efficient mobile engines in existence. In theory, a four-stroke engine has to be larger than a two-stroke engine to produce an equivalent amount of power. Two-stroke engines are becoming less common in developed countries these days, mainly due to manufacturer reluctance to invest in reducing two-stroke emissions. Traditionally, two-stroke engines were reputed to need more maintenance (despite exceptions like the Ricardo Dolphin engine, and the Twingle engines of the Trojan car and the Puch 250 motorcycle). Even though the simplest two-stroke engines have fewer moving parts, they could wear out faster than four-stroke engines. However fuel-injected two-strokes achieve better engine lubrication, also cooling and reliability should improve considerably

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