Ceramic Coatings


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Automotive Coatings

The automotive high performance market is where Dan Swain introduced the world to performance improving internal engine and exhaust coatings. Swain Tech Coatings was providing coatings to the high performance market before high performance knew it was a market! Over the past 25 plus years of developing and applying the most effective thermal barrier coatings, friction reducing coatings, heat emitting coatings and lubricating coatings, Swain has watched the high performance automotive market grow to heights few could have imagined 25 years ago. Though there are many different niches that fall within the high performance automotive category,

5Swain Tech Coatings does a tremendous amount of work for circle track racing, road racing, drag racing and with street enthusiast building sport compacts, street rods, restoring a classic and anything else you can imagine.

Though there are different challenges each engine builder will face, all will benefit from piston thermal barrier coatings, thermal barrier head coatings, thermal barrier exhaust coatings, low friction piston skirt coatings, and low friction bearing coatings.

With any motor, if you can keep heat where that heat makes more power, that is a good thing. If you can keep that heat where it will make more power while protecting the base metal from the heat, (less heat means stronger parts), that is even better.

6More power and less heat to the base metal is what Swain Tech’s thermal barrier coatings are all about.

The low friction coatings have been developed to reduce friction during normal operating conditions to free up power and to provide a solid film of lubrication if your primary lubrication fails.

Beyond the coating that will benefit anybody who is building a motor, Swain Tech offers coatings for valve springs, brake calipers, brake rotors, intercoolers, oil pumps, connecting rods, crank shafts and just about any other part that sees heat or motion. Contact Swain Tech for the coatings that would be most appropriate for your specific application.

7In the early 1970′s ceramic engineer Dan Swain developed the first successful ceramic thermal barrier coating. Dan took this technology and perfected it in both his own NASCAR modified and with leading NASCAR Winston Cup (Now Nextel Cup) teams. In 1981, Swain Tech Coatings was started to provide race teams and performance enthusiast with performance improving coatings. Swain Tech has remained the coating industry leader by continually developing coatings that allow customers to achieve power and durability gains that simply would not be obtainable without Swain’s coatings. We have thermal barrier coatings for piston, thermal barrier coatings for cylinder heads, thermal barrier coatings for valves, thermal barrier coatings for exhaust parts and thermal barrier coatings for intake manifolds. Parts that see movement and wear will benefit from Swain’s low friction coatings. We have piston skirt coatings, bearing coatings, valve stem coatings, valve spring coatings, crankshaft coatings and coatings for other parts where friction should be reduced or a solid film of lubrication can protect the part from wear or damage. Thermal barrier and heat emitting coatings for brakes should not be overlooked for race applications. A braking advantage can be as, or more important than power gains.

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White Lightning Exhaust Coating

Like all of Swain Tech’s coatings, White Lightning is a performance improving coating. What makes
White Lightning the best perfor-mance exhaust coating?

1) White Lightning really is ceramic so the material is a superior insulating material.

2) White Lightning is applied much thicker than any of the cosmetic coatings. White Lightning is applied about .015 thick compared to about .002 thick for the cosmetic coatings. Because White Lightning is the best insulating material and it is applied thicker than any other coating, White Lightning offers performance improvements that cannot be matched.

Many companies apply the shiny or colored paint based coatings and call them ceramic. Those thin shiny coatings are very different than Swain Tech’s White Lightning.

Whereas it would be more accurate to call those thin shiny coatings good high temperature paints that may have a very small amount added to them, Swain really uses a ceramic coating that is applied molten where it bonds and cools directly on the substrate.

After heat has performed its function in the combustion chamber, it travels out the exhaust port and into the exhaust header or manifold. If the gases are allowed to cool they lose velocity and the scavenging effect is reduced. By insulating the exhaust system, gases inside are kept at the highest possible temperature resulting in greater exhaust gas velocity and higher efficiency.

White Lightning insulating headers typically reduces radiant heat by about 35-55%. This reduction in radiant temperature will decrease under hood and cockpit temperatures. Lower under hood temperatures lead to lower intake temperatures.
A 10°F reduction in intake air temperature provides a 1% increase in horsepower.
A 30°F reduction equates to a 3% horsepower increase.

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Because White Lightning really is a ceramic, it is not possible to offer color choices like you can get with paint based coatings. However, the white textured finish of White Lightning makes it an ideal base for a good high temperature paint if you want to change the color of the coating. The high temperature paints bond well to the natural textured finish of White Lightning and the paint will not impact the effectiveness or durability of the White Lightning coating.

How durable is the coating? It is so durable that you would need to grind it off to remove it and it would take a significant amount of time to grind the coating off in one small area. If you mar the coating with wrenches you tighten up the header to the motor or against the frame rails when you guide the motor into place you will not damage the coating. You can make that area that was marred shiny, but it will not damage the coating or degrade its insulating value.

Swain Tech Coatings does not give White Lightning an official ‘temperature rating’ because temperature ratings really mean nothing when dealing with exhaust parts. The melting point of White Lightning is over 3,000°F and there are applications where the coating would stay completely intact at temperatures well above temperatures that can be reached on exhaust parts. However, what can damage our coating or any coating, no matter what the ‘temperature rating’ is would be if the base metal of there is a differential of expansion between the base metal and the coating greater than what any coating can expand. If the base metal does get hot enough to expand more than what a coating can expand, there is the possibility any coating can fracture. Whether the coating is rated for 1,300°, 1,400°, 2,000°F, or in the case of White Lightning, about 3,000°F, it is possible that a coating will get damaged if your parts get hot enough to glow. If you ask around to those who have had coatings done with temperature ratings, it is easy to find people who will confirm that the temperature ratings really mean little in a real world environment.

On naturally aspirated motors (non-turbo), we will typically coat the inside of headers as deep as possible. However, if we think the coating will interfere with the fit of the header to the motor or the header to the mating exhaust part, we will typically mask off those surfaces. Remember our coating is about .015 thick, not a thin paint. If there is masking you want to have done, be sure to let us know by marking this right on the part with a marker so we know what you want. If you want us to coat the inside of the part, let us know so we can process the part the way you want. We do not coat the inside of mufflers, catalytic converters or expansion chambers because they are not very accessible and there is very little coating that would bond to the inside of the parts.

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The most critical step in getting a coating to achieve a tenacious bond to the base metal of an exhaust part is by applying a good abrasive blast on the part at about a 90° angle to the substrate. Simply put, there are few exhaust parts that are open and accessible enough to apply this type of blast. If a good blast cannot be obtained there is no possible way a permanent bond will be achieved. This is why we take the time to mask off the interior surfaces of turbo parts. For the small amount of area that a good bond can be achieved on, it is not worth taking the risk of coating the inside where the coating could come off and damage the turbo.

It is much easier to simply coat a part all over instead of taking the time to mask a part and process it properly. At Swain Tech Coatings, we would only coat the inside of a part if it makes sense to coat it or if it has been requested by the customer. If it does not make sense to coat it or if it has not been requested by the customer, we will take the time and effort to mask the part.

When choosing which exhaust coating to have applied to your exhaust parts you should consider what you want the coating to do for you. If you want the best insulating and most durable exhaust coating available, Swain Tech’s White Lightning is the only coating to consider. It simply is not possible for the .002 thick paint based coatings that many other companies offer to insulate nearly as well as the .015 thick true ceramic White Lightning coating that Swain Tech offers. However, if the look of the coating is the primary purpose for the coating, White Lightning may not be your best choice. Though White Lightning is an attractive white textured coating it cannot provide you with the brilliant shine that can be achieved with the paint based coatings. If the shiny look is more important than the function of the coating, there are now many companies that offer that service. Swain Tech Coatings would recommend using a company with a national presence that has been around for a while.

If performance is what you are after and you consider the facts about coating materials, the effectiveness of coating the inside of parts (or lack of), and temperature ratings, it is easy to see that White Lightning is the only choice.
For those only wanting a shiny look, we actually recommend that they not use our coating. With more than 25 years of developing and applying the leading performance improving coatings, Swain Tech Coatings will give you the coatings and honest advice needed to get the best coating for your specific application.

What Should I Expect From Coating My Engine

Internal engine and exhaust coatings are so widely depended on now that the questions “Do coatings work?” or “Will it flake off?” are obsolete. Now people just want to know, “What should I realistically expect from coating my parts?” Swain Tech Coatings has always been the leader in engine and exhaust coatings. By developing specific coatings to improve internal engine and parts and professionally applying the coatings in a controlled environment, Swain Tech has earned a reputation for quality coatings with durability that is unmatched. Through the years, we have seen small coating shops start up with inferior materials and inflated claims. Some of the inferior materials are so basic they are sold as “do it yourself” coatings. The inferior materials tend to fail in service and the inflated claims cannot be delivered on. Both leave the customer feeling like they have been bitten by the old snake oil. Swain Tech’s professionally developed and applied coatings have been on the track and in the field-tested for over 30 years. The following is an independent, unbiased test that was conducted in cooperation with Circle Track magazine. The purpose of the test was to give engine builders and performance enthusiast a realistic presentation of power gains that should be expected with quality coatings on a high performance motor.

What Should I Expect Header and Turbo: Swain Tech's White Lightning exhaust coating is the best insulating and most durable exhaust coating available. If you have a heat problem, White Lightning is for you.

What Should I Expect Header and Turbo: Swain Tech's White Lightning exhaust coating is the best insulating and most durable exhaust coating available. If you have a heat problem, White Lightning is for you.

Circle Track sought out a shop that has an ongoing race program. Wayne’s Mail Order Engine Parts has an ongoing test program for small-block two-barrel Chevy Late Model Sportsman engines making them a good fit for this test. Ross pistons, Crower rods, Cam Dynamics camshaft and lifters and other reputable parts were used. To be sure this was an apple to apples comparison all initial clearances were carefully measured and noted on the assembly of the uncoated parts. After assembly, the engine went through normal break in procedures on a test stand. After break in was completed, the motor was bolted to the dyno for 6,500 rpm pulls. The motor was tuned to achieve its best power and the results were recorded. Maximum power was 318 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and peak torque was 305 at 3,500 rpm. All involved were happy with the initial uncoated results and felt the motor would perform well in the real world where the car needs to pull hard out of corners and reach maximum power at the end of straight away.

What Should I Expect Head & Pistons & Springs: Four cylinder motors are a great fit for coatings. With turbo's, high compression ratios and high rpms, these motors really benefit from thermal barrier and friction reducing coatings.

What Should I Expect Head & Pistons & Springs: Four cylinder motors are a great fit for coatings. With turbo's, high compression ratios and high rpms, these motors really benefit from thermal barrier and friction reducing coatings.

After the dyno pulls, the motor was torn down and components were sent to Swain Tech to be coated. Thermal barrier coatings on pistons and heads are where the biggest power gains are achieved so those were coated first. We coated the combustion chambers; exhaust ports and piston domes with our TBC ceramic thermal barrier. Piston skirts were coated with our Poly Moly low friction coating to reduce wear, attract lubrication, and provide a solid film of lubrication if the oil film goes away. We also coated the rod and main bearings to improve the wear life of the bearings and journals. The bearing coating provides a back-up form of lubrication to prevent catastrophic failure if you loose oil pressure or oil film. Though the coatings will add a slight film thickness, it would be unusual to need to make a clearance provision for any of the coatings.

Typically, oil-shedding coatings will not make a measurable power difference unless the motor is turning over 6,500 rpm. Despite the fact this motor was expected to make peak power near 6,500 rpm where the oil shedding coatings were not likely to make a measurable power difference, we coated the rods, crank counterweights, oil pan and timing cover with oil shedding coatings to illustrate that the coatings are permanent coatings and that they will survive in a race motor.

What Should I Expect V8 Heads and Pistons: Coatings on pistons, combustion chambers and valves are the internal engine parts that will provide the greatest power gains.

What Should I Expect V8 Heads and Pistons: Coatings on pistons, combustion chambers and valves are the internal engine parts that will provide the greatest power gains.

After coating, all parts were measured again and the motor was reassembled placing all parts in their original positions to eliminate the possibility of performance differences due to new or different parts. Reassembly confirmed that the coating thickness was thin enough that clearance provisions did not need to be made. After reassembly, the motor bolted to the same dyno in the same shop the initial pulls were recorded on. The results were exactly what you would expect based on years of Swain Tech’s independent dyno test on every type of motor from a basic 5 horse Briggs & Stratton Motor to motors that are found at the top levels of circle track, drag and road racing. With over 30 years of testing, we can confidently state you should realistically expect a 2-5% horsepower and torque gain on a motor with coated pistons and heads.

With no modifications other than the coatings, the dyno pulls clearly showed the torque and horsepower curves were much better. Both curves were fatter in the lower rpm ranges where it will improve the drive off corners, and both curves were flatter as well. Peak horsepower was up 2% from 318 to 324 horsepower and peak torque was up 5% from 320 lb/ft to 335 lb/ft. In the heart of the curves, these numbers were even more impressive. At 4,500 rpm, torque was up 7% from 298 lb/ft to 319 lb/ft. At 5,500 rpm, horsepower was up 6% from 302 to 320 horsepower. Most engine builders will take full advantage of the coating by making jetting (or computer), timing, and lighter weight oil for maximum power gains. However for this test, we wanted to document and publish the gains that are achieved if the only modification was coating the engine. If the proper tuning adjustments were made to take full advantage of the coatings, these results would have been even more impressive.

This unbiased and independent test confirms exactly what a Swain Tech engineers would tell you to expect from a motor coated with Swain Tech’s coatings. It is important to remember that power gains are just part of the purpose of coating pistons and heads. In addition to making more power, parts are protected against burning, run cooler with more tensile strength and are protected from scuffing, seizing, galling and sticking. Rings, pins, rods and the entire bottom end will run cooler with coated pistons. Head and coolant temperatures are lowered with cylinder head coatings.

No other modification will offer more value for the investment. Is there any modification other than Swain Tech Coatings that will improve both power and durability at any price? For about $750 a typical V-8 can have pistons, heads and headers coated (the coatings that add the most power). A typical 6 cylinder would be about $550 to have pistons, heads and headers coated and a typical 4 cylinder would cost about $450. This is value that is hard to beat.

If you are involved in high performance motors, you owe it to yourself and/or your customers to have your parts coated with Swain’s thermal barrier and friction reducing coatings. The technology is proven and the benefits are unmatched by any other performance enhancement. Twenty years ago, coatings were new enough where a wait and see attitude may have been warranted. Now, a wait and see attitude will put you behind what the competition is doing.


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