It all begins with a healthy heart, and in racing and motorsport that ticker sometimes has to produce gobs of power. But even if output is limited, you can never have too much reliability — and the key to both power production and dependability is tailoring an engine purposely for its intended use.
We've explained here previously what it takes to build a competitive drift vehicle, both in general and specifically with RAD Dan Burkett and his Mark IV Toyota Supra for Formula DRIFT. For this series of articles, our aim is to go deeper into one particular aspect of that formula: the power plant. And giving us behind-the-scenes access again is our extended family at RAD Industries, who let us follow along as their Toyota 2JZ-GTE inline-6 engines — one primary, one backup — were assembled for the 2017 Formula DRIFT Championship season.
Burkett — a self-avowed Supra nut — has a decade of 2JZ experience under his belt and a pretty good grasp of what he's looking for and how to get there. Like much of his competition in Formula D, the target is in the ballpark of 1,000 horsepower, and to achieve this the cylinder block's rotating assembly will need to be upgraded to both increase displacement and durability. To those ends, Burkett and RAD have partnered with key players CP-Carrillo, Brian Crower (BC), and S-Tec Motorsports, among others.
Starting with the BC crankshaft, Dan opted for the lighter version of the company's stroker crank for the 2JZ, which takes displacement from 3.0 liters to 3.4; the lengthened stroke is good for more torque, but any more power or boost pressure beyond their targets would likely necessitate the heavier BC crank. CP-Carrillo provided the meaty Extreme Duty steel connecting rods as well as custom aluminum pistons, and that's where our story takes us today.
From its main US plant in Irvine, Calif., CP-Carrillo specializes in developing and manufacturing pistons and rods for racing vehicles, the aftermarket, and even OEMs. The company began as two outfits initially, rod maker Carrillo Industries founded by Fred Carrillo in 1963, and CP Pistons founded by brothers Barry, Peter (Snake), and Dave Calvert in 1998. In 2008, CP acquired Carrillo, and the brand officially became CP-Carrillo two years after that.
Since CP-Carrillo makes every part of the rotating assembly except for crankshafts, it is in the unique position of being able to coordinate designs and specifications to allow these parts to integrate precisely and perform optimally, an advantage no other piston and rod manufacturer can say. Indeed, CP-Carrillo has been part of more records and wins than any other piston or rod manufacturer in the industry can claim.
CP-Carrillo's Irvine plant runs 24 hours a day except for a few months at the end of the year, when production is scaled back to about 20 hours a day. All of its piston manufacturing is done in Irvine, including what's called a "skim cut" of the raw forgings — a basic milling of the part to prepare it for the CNC machines. To keep its production line from getting too cluttered and backed up, forgings storage sends over only about three days worth of work at a time.
Our tour began in the Data Entry room, where CP-Carrillo's engineering staff — four fulltime piston engineers, one fulltime rod engineer, and then a couple engineers that float between piston, rod, and OEM development — sit in front of computers conceptualizing new and custom rotating assembly parts. In general, piston and rod orders come as "tickets" from the sales department, and each ticket includes specific information about what features the customer is looking for. In some cases, customers will actually send in a sample of what they're looking for in their order, and in these instances the engineer has to basically start from scratch, choosing a suitable forging and designing the order around that foundation.
From the Data Entry room we moved onto the huge factory floor, where CP-Carrillo uses one aluminum alloy primarily for its aftermarket piston applications, silica-free 2618 for its strength; although they used to have some limited 4032 production as well, they have found over the years 2618 to be the superior option in virtually every situation and now focus on that. The skim-cut pistons are set up in one of several multi-axis computer numerically controlled (CNC) machining centers on the floor for the first operation of its "cell," or series of operations (CP-Carrillo also has OEM cells and racing cells). In this case the machine rough cuts the pin bore; if a piston's skirt needs lightening it's done at this point as well.
Production in the Irvine facility is both extremely flexible and scalable. Many of the CNC machines can hold up to 16 pistons at a time, and generally a single operator will run multiple machines at once, loading and unloading one machine while the others work on milling the parts loaded in them — this way machines are always producing. Operators are cross-trained to work multiple operations and can float around to different machines and different parts of the manufacturing process if needed. Many of the production staff at CP-Carrillo have been making pistons for decades.
Those operators run machining centers at CP-Carrillo that are state of the art and remarkably advanced, almost out of necessity; carving out something as intricate as an aluminum alloy piston requires whatever is doing the milling to be equally sophisticated. First, mechanical "fingers" hold the slugs in place inside these machines to keep them perfectly still while cutting the basic shape of the piston, while later a register is cut into the piston to cut the more intricate features and specs so the machine can hold the piston without fingers grabbing onto another sensitive part of the piston that could cause distortion. The shop still houses manual machines if anything needs touching up, but the machining centers are really one of the stars of the factory floor.
With its machining centers, CP-Carrillo can do the three-dimensional under-head milling of each piston, as well as cut the ring grooves and skirts and carve out valve pockets. Another machine will cut the bottom off of each piston and drill the wrist pin oiler holes, while still another machine finishes the pin bores, and then all slugs are de-burred by hand. Everything is double cut here, meaning after an initial cut each section is cut again, shaving off the smallest of amounts in order to achieve the clearance/specs the customer is looking for.
All pistons — OEM, aftermarket, and racing — go through the same de-burring station, wash, and pin fit check towards the end of the process, and CP-Carrillo guarantees all units within a batch to be balanced — that is, plus or minus one gram of each other. Pistons are then laser etched with job and part number. Currently the factory can produce at least 1,000 pistons a day, and more machines for greater capacity are on the way.
As you might imagine, quality control is vital at CP-Carrillo and pretty much baked into all of its production processes. By default, all pistons are inspected at least twice; after each operation, the operator examines his part of the job, checking his work before moving it to the next stage, and then a final inspection is performed on parts before they get sent to packaging and shipping. More intensive Level 2 and 3 inspections are also available at an added cost to the customer, where CP-Carrillo will go over pistons in a coordinate measuring machine (CMM) for exact specs, and if at any point during inspections it's discovered there's an issue with a batch of slugs, they can either touch them up by hand or, if the issue is severe enough, scrap the batch and rush a new batch through the manufacturing line.
The production efficiencies introduced to the making of pistons have also been applied to CP-Carrillo's connecting rod side of the business. Through CNC machining and other workflow optimization, CP Pistons was able to significantly reduce the amount of time and machining operations it took to produce a quality steel rod when it first acquired Carrillo in 2008; what used to take several manual operations can now be done in two or three CNC machining centers. And it's all done in the U.S.A.
As with pistons, different machines handle different parts of the rod design, but unlike pistons rods can go in a media tumbler afterward to take off any sharp edges. When rods are nearly completed, they get Magnafluxed — basically sprayed with a fluorescent penetrant media and taken in a darkroom to be inspected with a special UV light. The test exposes micro-fractures and other telltale symptoms of possible future failure, and is also used for CP-Carrillo's refurbishing services. Connecting rods also come balanced plus or minus one gram, which we understand is harder to do with steel.
It's all pretty dang impressive if you ask us, but CP-Carrillo isn't done yet. As we've already mentioned, they've recently added more capability with the acquisition of more machining centers and more buildings — and it's a good thing, too, because apparently they've got a few big OEM orders to fulfill (which is perfectly fine by them). But maybe the most exciting prospect on the horizon for CP-Carrillo is robotics — as in, adding robots to the production line, something it aims to execute with an upcoming project.
NEXT: Part 2 of our 1,000HP pro-drift 2JZ-GTE build: machining the 2JZ-GTE engine block and cylinder head at S-Tec Motorsports