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I am rebuilding a 6 cylinder BMW engine. The engine had 300,000KM on it. I want to balance the rotating assembly as I want to increase the RPM redline from 6500 to 7000. Upon measuring the pistons after completely cleaning, the below tables are the result.

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As can be seen, cylinder 4 piston is an outlier by 5.2grams from the heaviest. The engine lasted 300,000km with no issue. The bearings were evenly worn, crankshaft has no wear, cylinder 4 had no bore issues, and neither did the piston (visually).

Removing up to 5.2grams from the other 5 aluminium pistons does not seem like a good idea, and I don't want to do it as it's a lot of material removal.

What's the best approach here for a higher redline?

Edit: After some more thought, I could swap piston 3&6 and reduce 2.5g max to give the below. As it's an inline 6 cylinder, 1&6, 2&5, and 3&4 pairs would be balanced. So all primary forces should cancel out. Is this approach feasible?

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Here is the bottom of a piston, and after I've removed material (only 1.5g)

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2 Answers 2

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Typically when weight matching pistons, you do exactly what you're saying you don't want to do ... that being, you weigh all the pistons and use the lowest weighted one as your goal. Since you don't state which exact engine you are rebuilding (you say BMW 6 cyl ... there were bunches of different BMW 6 cyl models), I can't look up the specifications to see what they are for your engine. However, 5.2 grams (0.18 oz) is very little weight. Most pistons have weight bosses on them which are designed so you can remove weight on the pistons to get them to where you want them weight wise. By removing the weight from these areas, you won't damage or weaken the piston in any way. And if done right, you can actually improve the overall structure of the piston so as to remove weak points (ie: stress risers).

To get done what you need to get done, I would suggest one of the following three things:

  1. Remove the extra weight from the other 5 pistons. Like I said, there is extra material built into pistons to allow this to happen. Because this is such little weight to remove, make sure you're doing it in small increments, weighing the piston you're working on often to ensure you're sneaking up on the number. Removing the weight can easily be done with cartridge rolls on a die grinder. Running it over a large area will remove minimal material from any given spot. Just to ensure you understand, this is done from inside the bottom of the piston. Don't remove skirt material length, only material from inside making sure not to bother machined areas.
  2. Get a stock replacement piston for the one which is out of spec. You could get a set of used pistons which are the same size and find one which is the weight you need.
  3. Buy a set of performance pistons. Most quality piston manufacturers will weight match a set of pistons from the factory. You buy the entire set and they will match, not only in weight, but in all other dimensions as well. I purchased a set of Federal Mogul pistons for an LS build. Not only were they weight matched, but the dimensions were within +/- 0.00025" ( 0.00635mm ) in the diameter as well.

Don't forget, when trying to balance your rotating assembly, there's a lot more to it than just your pistons. You also have to weight match the rods. This is done on both ends of the rods. When you get the rods weight matched, you need to balance the complete rotating assembly. This could involve adding or removing weight to the crankshaft and is based on it, plus the bob weight of all the piston/rod components, to include pistons, wrist pins, locks (if needed), rings, & bearings.

The other thing to remember when trying to increase your rpm is valve control. Yes, you don't want your bottom end flying apart due to being out of balance, if you don't have valve control, you'll introduce valve float which will absolutely kill power. To counteract this, you need to replace the valve springs with ones having a higher spring rate.

Everything above has to do with getting your engine to rev higher. Since you state you are rebuilding it, you'll want to ensure all tolerances from old parts are still good. Hopefully you're are fully measuring your pistons to ensure they aren't out of spec (ie: skirt wear, etc), and that the cylinder bores are still round and not tapered. There are many wear spots to check. Without a thorough amount of checking and knowledge of what to check for in the first place, I'd ensure you have a good source of information on those thing as you go through your rebuild process, or you'll just be throwing away a lot of time and money if you don't. Just a suggestion.

EDIT: Because there seems to be some confusion about what I've stated here, I'm including a video link about the subject about how/where to remove material in your piston: https://youtu.be/sPsC4BG80hE

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  • Yes, all critical measurements have been taken and checked to within tolerance. There's very little areas in this OEM piston to remove material (the balance bosses are tiny), so I don't think removing 5 grams is ideal. Understand there's more to balancing the rotating assembly and the piston weight only tell part of the story. I was more looking at WHY we balance the rotating assembly, and if we're looking at engine primary/secondary forces of my particular engine (BMW M54 btw), what's the best approach to take to reduce material removal.
    – tgun926
    Mar 29, 2023 at 19:40
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    I really don't think you are comprehending how little material 5g is ... doing a smoothing operation using cartridge rolls will get it done in short order. Mar 29, 2023 at 19:44
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    I'm not a car person, but joined just for this comment: aluminum has a density of around 2.7g/cm3. A typical teaspoon has 5ml of volume. 5g of aluminum is one third of a teaspoon.
    – jaskij
    Mar 30, 2023 at 16:38
  • @jaskij Yes, about 2ml. Almost exactly half an inch cubed. Put in another perspective: it's about 1.3% of the mass of the piston that has to be removed. It sounds like a fairly significant amount to me. But I don't have the knowledge to assess if it's feasible.
    – marcelm
    Mar 30, 2023 at 17:17
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    @tgun926 - My suggestion is to keep going. You've got plenty of meat left there to remove. Any place inside the back of the piston which is raised as part of the casting can be removed. When you get to the point you don't have any raised points, then start smoothing, where you are taking a very little amount of material from all over. Do not concentrate in any one area during smoothing. Apr 1, 2023 at 11:51
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I believe that, in general, if you're looking for this level of performance that a set of CUSTOM pistons is the usual solution.

Alternatively, you could likely send this set to an engine builder to balance the set which would almost certainly involve removing material to get them all in balance.

Swapping pistons is certainly an option but I'd be hesitant to do that unless you first replace the piston rings and also hone the cylinders.

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  • Rings are being replaced, cylinders are already honed and pistons measured. Piston-Wall clearance wise, swapping pistons will still keep everything in spec.
    – tgun926
    Mar 29, 2023 at 19:41

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