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Evolving from Plastic to Teflon Seals

The term “plastics” is generic way of describing a synthetic material made from a wide range of organic polymers. Organic polymers describes a man-made substance that is formulated using polymer chains to create what we commonly refer to as…(you guessed it), plastics.

Before plastic, leather had been used to create Backup ring devices behind O-rings. Leather allows fluids to be retained, providing lubrication for the O-ring when the system was running dry.

picture of teflonThe problem with leather was that it could become dry and shrink away from the sealing service, exposing the elastomer to same pressure it was intended to protect against.

With the advent of polymers, a piece of plastic could be cut or formed into the exact shape to allow for zero extrusion gap, and for continued protection for the O-ring.

Some polymers were very brittle. Since they needed to be deformed to allow for installation into solid glands, the cut of the plastic could nibble at the O-ring, causing premature failure of the element it was supposed to be protecting.

The Revolution of PTFE

When PTFE moved out of the lab and into industrial use, it quickly found itself adjacent to the O-ring. PTFE offers extrusion resistance and, at the same time, doesn’t erode or nibble at the O-ring due to the “softness” of the polymer.(Hardness between 55 and 65 Shore D)

Given the composition of PTFE, or Teflon, it could be utilized as a sealing element to protect Backup rings and conform to the shaft. The bonus was it was generally easy on shafts (depending on the filler added to the PTFE).

There are some negative aspects to Teflon that needed to be overcome by early engineers. First, it has a fairly high rate of Thermal expansion which, by its own nature, could often times lose contact with the sealing surface. This meant some kind of loading was necessary to ensure contact.

PTFE is as tough as other polymers, so the fact that it could seal on a shaft made it vulnerable during installation for tears or nicks on sealing surface.

Second, if it were stretched during installation, the material had to be sized back to its original shape due to its poor elastic properties. Continue reading Evolving from Plastic to Teflon Seals