Reduce Downtime and Costly Seal Replacements: Seal Failure Diagnosis Part 1

Article re-posted with permission from Parker Hannifin Sealing & Shielding Team.

Original content can be found on Parker’s Website and was written by William Pomeroy, applications engineer, Parker O-Ring & Engineered Seals Division.


There are many situations where an O-Ring may not last as long as one thinks that it should. When the expectation is realistic and yet the seal fails earlier than expected, Applications Engineering teams are often asked to help discover the seal failure mode(s).

Seal failure is often due to a combination of failure modes, making root cause difficult to uncover. When beginning a failure analysis, items usually asked for include: hardware information, how the seal is installed, application conditions (temp, fluids, and pressure exposure), and how long into the service that the seal failed. These details help bring the overall application into focus and enable a quick diagnosis to help resolve seal failures. In part one of the seal failure blog series, we will discuss compression set, extrusion, and spiral failure.

Compression set

  • picture of compression setCompression set is likely the most common failure mode for elastomer seals. Compression can be defined, or rather quantified, by the seals ability to return to its original shape after compression is removed. Zero percent compression set indicates that no relaxation (permanent deformation) has occurred, while 100% compression set indicates that total relaxation (seal no longer applies a force on the mating surface). When investigating material options, note that the lower the % compression set for a given compound, the more resilient the material is. However, it is extremely important to ensure you are making equal comparison in terms of time and temperature for the test conditions.
  • There are many potential causes for compression set.
    • Poor material properties
    • Improper gland
    • Fluid incompatibility
    • Temperature exposures above the recommended range for the material.

Extrusion and Nibbling

  • picture of extrusionThe driving force (pun intended) for this failure mode is the pressure load that the seal is exposed to. Extrusion most often occurs when a seal material deforms into the space between the bore and the outside of the tube (commonly referred to as the extrusion gap or “E-gap”). An approximation for the pressure rating for a seal can be determine by evaluating figure 3-2 of the Parker O-Ring handbook. The X-axis shows the size of the clearance gap (total gap, or diametral gap), and the Y-axis is the pressure load. The curves on the chart correspond to the hardness of the rubber. Extrusion can also occur due to gland overfill, when the deformation from compression of the seal fills the entire groove and lips over into the extrusion gap.
  • Face seals do not usually have an extrusion gap, so this orientation can achieve much higher pressure loads than a radial seal. Without a gap for the seal to extrude into, the risk of significant extrusion is highly diminished.
  • Extrusion in radial seals can by combated by reducing the clearance gap or by adding a back up ring.

Spiral Failure

  • picture of spiral failureSpiral failure can be more simply described as the O-Ring rolling in the groove. This failure more is most common in dynamic reciprocating O-Ring applications. However, spiral failure can also occur during installation. An image of spiral failure is unique, and relatively easy to diagnose, but the root cause of spiral failure can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint. Uneven surface finish, poor lubrication, side loading, eccentricity, or perhaps stroke speed can all contribute to spiral failure.

Check out Parker’s neat video about Seal Failure Modes:

Parker and Gallagher Fluid Seals can help diagnose seal failures and the best sealing solutions for your application.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in this series.


For more information about how Gallagher Fluid Seals can help you, contact our engineering department today.