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A Guide to Elastomer Technology in Mechanical Seals

Elastomer Technology in Mechanical Seals

Evaluate properties of rubber during installation and seal life.

Elastomers (or rubbers) are a ubiquitous family of materials whose use stretches across nearly the entire range of mechanical seal designs.  From plant-sourced natural rubber, so named by John Priestly in 1770 for its utility in rubbing away pencil graphite, to petroleum-sourced synthetic rubber first developed around the turn of the 20th century, the “elastomer” and their properties are familiar but should not be overlooked—especially when dealing with mechanical seals.

How Elastomers Work in Mechanical Seals

Rubber seals come in a variety of profiles—O-rings, cup gaskets, bellows diaphragms, sealing/wiper lips and many others. They are classified as either static or dynamic and create positive pressure
against surfaces to eliminate or control the leakage of liquids and/or gases while preventing the entrance of external contaminants such as dust and dirt. Static sealing occurs between adjacent surfaces with no relative motion, such as between the pump casing and cover. Due to frictional wear and heat generation, dynamic sealing is less straightforward, occurring between adjacent surfaces that are continuously or intermittently moving relative to another, such as between the pump casing and shaft.

In mechanical face seals, elastomers tend to take second chair because the primary seal—the dynamic seal between the housing and rotating shaft—is achieved by sliding contact between the pair of stiffer, lapped-flat sealing faces, one stationary in the housing and one rotating with the shaft. In many designs, rubber provides the secondary seal between each seal face and adjacent surface. One seal face is fixed and sealed statically using an O-ring or cup gasket. The other is spring-loaded and requires a semi-dynamic seal to accommodate some axial play, such as a dynamic O-ring in pusher-type mechanical face seals or elastomeric bellows in nonpusher ones. These semi-dynamic applications (involving flexing and sliding of the elastomer) can be critical for maintaining proper contact between the faces through face wear, shaft movement, etc.

Although the seal face pair tends to be the most critical design feature, mechanical face seals are  often used in the most demanding applications.

Rubber technology features prominently in radial lip seals, where typical applications have lower pressurevelocity (PV) values relative to those involving mechanical face seals. Still, the flexible elastomer lip must handle considerable relative motion in the form of shaft/bore rotation, reciprocation or a combination of both. In addition to standard designs and sizes, numerous customizations and proprietary approaches exist. The simplest designs rely on a single rubber lip’s inherent resiliency, although common enhancements include multiple sealing lips, a circumferential garter spring installed in a groove over the sealing lip to maintain contact with the shaft, and an auxiliary wiper lip or “excluder” to prevent abrasive dust or debris from compromising the primary sealing surface. For improving service life and performance in rotary applications, unidirectional or bidirectional hydrodynamic pumping aids can be added in the form of custom-shaped extrusions on the backside of the sealing lip to return leaked fluid to the sealing interface, increase lip lubrication and lower operating temperatures.

Diagram of secondary, dynamic elastomeric seals in mechanical face seals.

Benefits of Rubber

The definition of an elastomer provides initial insight into where rubber gets its resilient sealing quality: “a macromolecular material which, in the vulcanized state and at room temperature, can be stretched repeatedly to at least twice its original length and which, upon release of the stress, will immediately return to approximately its original length.”

When the rubber is squeezed by the adjacent surfaces of the clearance gap to be sealed, it has the characteristic
properties of malleably deforming and taking the shape of each  surface in response to the stress and applying a force back against the surfaces in its attempt to return to its original dimensions. Elastomers consist of large molecules called polymers (from the Greek “poly” meaning “many” and “meros” meaning “parts”), which are long chains of the same or different repeating units, called monomers, usually linked together by carbon-carbon bonds (the
most notable exception being silicone elastomers, which are linked by silicon-oxygen bonds). Soft and hard plastics are also composed of polymers. However, the regularity of the monomers in their polymer chains allows neighboring segments to align and form crystals, making the macromolecular plastic material rigid and inelastic.

One can prevent this crystallization by breaking up the regularity of the polymer chain, resulting usually in a viscous “gum” that is readily shaped into molds. At the molecular level, the polymer chains are similar to spaghetti-like strands flowing past each other.

During the process of vulcanization, Representatin of three polymer chains after formation of crosslinking via vulcanizationor curing, the viscous liquid is heated with sulfur or peroxides and other vulcanizing agents, and crosslinks form between polymer chains, tying them together with chemical bonds, converting the gum into an elastic, thermoset solid rubber that retains its shape after moderate deformation.

In addition to the selection and preparation of base polymer(s) and cure system ingredients, formulating the final rubber product, also known as compounding, involves five other broad categories of ingredients, which have percentage compositions expressed in parts per hundred rubber (phr). Fillers include various powders that thicken the polymer mixture, improve strength and resistance to abrasives, and reduce final cost. Plasticizers are oils and other liquid hydrocarbons that lower viscosity to ease processing, soften the final compound and in some cases improve low temperature performance. Process aids are specialized chemicals added in low concentrations to improve mixing, flow properties and final appearance.

Antidegradants protect the rubber from environmental attack. Finally, various miscellaneous ingredients may be added for special purposes, including foaming agents, dyes, fungicides, flame
retardants, abrasives, lubricants and electrically conductive particles. A simplified description of processing these ingredients includes mixing via tangential or intermeshing mixers, forming into desired shapes and vulcanizing into the final product.

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Gallagher Case Study: Design and Fabrication of Custom Molded Gasket

Gallagher Fluid Seals helps meters & instruments manufacturer through the design and fabrication of a custom-molded gasket with an engineered profile.

 

The Problempicture of micro corrector

Our client’s micro corrector was experiencing water intrusion past the gasket, caused by improper seal material and configuration.

The Approach

Gallagher Applications Engineer Benjamin Mell worked closely with our client to identify & address the issue and suggested sending a sample of the instrument to GFS headquarters. Our engineering team received the hardware and investigated the root cause of the seal failure.

GFS engineers observed that our client’s closed-cell foam gasket had taken a severe compression set. This was limiting the life & effectiveness of the foam seal, which in turn allowed water to penetrate the instrument and damage the electronics.

The Solution

picture of the red seal inside the micro corrector
Figure 1.

Based on our experience and industry insights, GFS was contracted to design & fabricate a custom-molded gasket with an engineered profile to properly mate with the hardware and perform to customer expectations/ requirements. (see Figure 1. red seal)

Results / Next Steps

The Gallagher-engineered gasket solution was a success; it eliminated water intrusion and damage to the electronics, reduced warranty claims, and provided a more reliable product.

With the success of this project, GFS is partnering with our client for additional custom solutions. Next, we plan to help design and fabricate a window seal on the micro corrector to further decrease the possibility of water intrusion.

For more background about this case study, click here.

Sealing Heavy-Duty Equipment

Article first appeared in Power Transmission Engineering blog on November 14, 2017.


Freudenberg Examines Sealing Requirements for Heavy-Duty Equipment

94 AU 30000 - New Polyurethane MaterialsThe seals and the hydraulic systems of any piece of mining, construction, agricultural or other heavy industry equipment operate under extreme conditions. Variable temperatures, aggressive hydraulic oils, dust and extended periods of operation place seals and their tribological systems under continuous duress. A new generation of material, 94 AU 30000, expands the boundaries for polyurethane use. This innovative compound can be used in standard cylinder applications where higher pressures, larger extrusion gaps, reduced internal friction, improved hydrolysis resistance and compatibility with bio fluids, among other factors, are important. DMRW2 hydraulic wipers made from 94 AU 30000 and sheet metal and the availability of this polyurethane as part of Freudenberg Sealing Technologies’ Xpress rapid replacement part service are applications discussed in the following article.

Today’s extreme environmental climates place extreme demands on the material and structure of the hydraulic seals used to maintain the performance and operation of heavy-duty equipment.  The excavators, tractors, backhoes and tunnel boring machines that grind through the earth every day must work harder, longer, cleaner and more cost efficiently than ever to feed the plant, build its infrastructure and harvest its natural resources.

Sealing requirements for these machines must now include high values for tensile strength and elongation at break, resistance to oils and ozone, high elasticity and abrasion resistance. Polyurethane materials (PU) have traditionally met these industrial requirements. In comparison with elastomers, PU has a four times greater capacity for mechanical resistance, as well as outstanding resistance to ozone. At the same time, it stands up well to the stresses of mineral-based fluids.

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How to Read a Rubber Test Report

Article re-posted with permission from Parker Hannifin Sealing & Shielding Team.
Original content can be found on Parker’s Blog.


4 Most Common Rubber Test Report Misunderstandings

4 Most Common Rubber Test Report MisunderstandingsWe’ve all done it at least once: looked at a rubber test report, read the numbers on it, and come up with exactly the wrong conclusion. Pass / fail limits and results are printed right there, but for some reason, our brain just misinterprets the two. It’s a passing value, but for some reason, we think it shows a failure instead. Imagine a police officer writing a speeding ticket for driving 53 MPH on a road with a 55 MPH speed limit.

It’s not a problem with the test itself, it’s a problem of interpretation. That means the old carpenter’s adage, “measure once, cut twice; measure twice, cut once” doesn’t address the issue. The same issue of misunderstanding the values on a test report occurs in the rubber seal industry about once a month. Passing results are misinterpreted to be failing results, and good values are thought to be bad ones. Here are four of the most common rubber test report misunderstandings I’ve run into.

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New FFKM Extends Seal Life

Article re-posted with permission from Parker Hannifin Sealing & Shielding Team.
Original content can be found on Parker’s Blog.


Solving Long Time Industry Problem

Compression Set Resistance - FFKM ULTRA FF156

For several years, one of the biggest drawbacks of “chemically resistant” FFKMs, or perfluoroelastomers, has been their relatively poor compression set resistance. Typically, compounding these materials to be extremely resistant to many different chemical environments comes with the drawback of having to give up their ability to resist taking a set after being under high temperatures for an extended period. Parker’s solution to this industry challenge is ULTRA FF156.

Best in class compression set resistance

Compression set refers to a common failure mode of elastomers where a seal permanently flattens out while in application and the joint begins to leak. A material’s resistance to this permanent deformation can be easily tested in the lab. To do so, a seal’s thickness is measured, then that seal is compressed about 25% before being heated in an oven at a particular temperature for a predetermined amount of time. That seal is then removed from the oven and the thickness is remeasured.

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O-Ring Failure Modes: Compression Set

Article re-posted with permission from Parker Hannifin Sealing & Shielding Team.  Original content can be found on Parker’s Digital ORing Handbook.

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Probably the most common cause of O-ring failure is compression set. An effective O-ring seal requires a continuous “seal line” between the sealed surfaces. The establishment of this “seal line” is a function of gland design and seal cross section which determines the correct amount of squeeze (compression) on the O-ring to maintain seal integrity without excessive deformation of the seal element.

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