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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 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.
Internal combustion engine piston, sectioned to show the gudgeon pin. An internal combustion engine is acted upon by the pressure of the expanding combustion gases in the combustion chamber space at the top of the cylinder. This force then acts downwards through the connecting rod and onto the crankshaft.
The pin itself is of hardened steel and is fixed in the piston, but free to move in the connecting rod. A few designs use a ‘fully floating’ design that is loose in both components. All pins must be prevented from moving sideways and the ends of the pin digging into the cylinder wall, usually by circlips. Gas sealing is achieved by the use of piston rings.