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Inflatable Seals

Designing with inflatable seals for the medical industry

Seals are central parts of the design of medical equipment with moveable, interlocking parts that must be secured for sanitary, thermal, or radioactive reasons.

Designing with inflatable seals requires the inclusion of a source of compressed gas, which is used to inflate seals in the medical device industry and it is often already available on the plant floor, in a laboratory, or medical environment. It is also possible to inflate with liquids rather than gas in demanding applications, and water would be an acceptable inflation media in this sector, although not common. For some low-temperature applications, a seal may be inflated with a blend of glycerine and water.

Designing with inflatable seals

Seals used on doors and openings should be part of the early phases of product design. In some cases, contact seals may be effective, but they often require substantial force be applied to load the seal, which impacts product design and increases manufacturing cost. Inflatable seals enable more cost-effective machinery fabrication for two reasons:

  1. Inflatable seals are more forgiving because the seal can inflate to close a gap between structural members and achieve equal sealing pressure around the flange as long if the gap falls within a broad tolerance. An inflatable seal will work whether the gap spans 3mm or 10mm, for instance. A compression seal or other contact seal will not be effective unless the seal and flange contact each other with great precision, which can be difficult to achieve on new equipment. Even a robust and precision-manufactured machine with well-designed flanges will lose some of its geometric integrity as hinges and other components deform or bend over years of use. Throughout the course of the equipment lifecycle, a contact seal may become problematic and exhibit leakage.
  2. Inflatable seals enable lighter and more affordable methods of equipment fabrication. The force exerted on the chassis of a piece of equipment means doors and related components must be thicker, and perhaps machined instead of welded. These components are typically made of stainless steel, and inflatable seals might be attractive due to lowered material costs.

Which equipment needs inflatable seals?

  • Isolators — where a leak-tight enclosure can be critical for environmental health protection due to hazardous substances or processes. — can secure glove boxes, access gates, transfer systems and filtration systems that handle toxic or sterile components.
  • Sterilizers — which may rely on heat, chemicals, irradiation, or filtration — may be suitable for desktop autoclave sterilizers, sterilizing tabletop autoclaves and static air depyrogenation sterilizers.
  • Dryers and freeze dryers – used to sterilize everything from machine components to glassware.
  • Material handling functions – to raise, lower, or grasp objects.

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