Article re-posted with permission from Parker Hannifin Sealing & Shielding Team.
Original content can be found on Parker’s Website and was written by Nathan Wells, application engineer, Engineered Polymer Systems Division.
Heavy duty equipment moves industry forward in all climates, from the sunny Caribbean to icy Greenland. Effective, reliable sealing is what allows hydraulic systems in heavy duty equipment to do work, no matter the temperature. Reliable sealing solutions allow cylinders on dump trucks and excavators to move icy, frozen tundra, and allow actuators on subsea valves to operate 5,000 – 20,000 feet below the surface of the ocean. We depend on these seals for our safety and productivity, so a little chilly weather is no reason to call it quits.
What happens to seals at cold temperatures?
Most objects shrink as they get cold, with few exceptions, such as water. This applies to all matter in the universe. Materials shrink at different rates, and this is a measurable property called the Coefficient of Thermal Expansion (CoTE). Thermoset elastomers and thermoplastics shrink roughly 5 times more than metals for a given temperature change. This means at cold temperatures, seals shrink more than their housings, and thus have less “squeeze” to make a tight seal.
To make matters worse, elastomers also harden as the temperature drops. At some temperatures, known for each material as its Glass Transition Temperature (abbreviated ‘Tg’), seals become rock hard and brittle … like glass. We don’t make seals out of glass for a reason; they wouldn’t work. In order to keep seals springy and resilient, we need to specify materials with a Tg below the coldest temperature a system will see.
In very high pressure, low temperature applications, there is one additional concern. Applying pressure to seals effectively raises the Tg of the material by about +1°C per 750 PSI. This is called Pressure-Induced Glass Transition and is the reason high pressure seals fail slightly above their measured Tg. Continue reading Sealing at Extreme Low Temperatures