Sometimes they may look pretty familiar and insignificant – but seals and gaskets are rapidly advancing fields of technology that perform functions vital to safety, testing, manufacturing, mining, energy and liquid and gas reticulation operations.
They play a key role in ensuring the efficacy and longevity of valves, pumps, reticulation systems, machinery and automation solutions, where they are essential in avoiding leaks of fuel, fluid power mediums, harmful emissions, vapours and chemical and aggressive process solutions.
And because they may look so simple and familiar, users may assume that what has done a job previously will continue be okay to meet a whole host of issues that may arise in the future, including new challenges where they are essential to the integrity of process automation, materials handling, machine construction and maintenance and safety, hygiene and export compliance.
Sometimes this approach may be right. Proven can be good – if the application is the same, or very similar. But trusting old solutions with new tasks may also be wrong.
Because new machinery technologies (faster, higher pressure, more automated) may demand new seal and gasket capabilities. And new seal and gasket material capabilities may themselves have advanced considerably since material selection was last addressed.
“So with advancing material innovation there may already be a better solution that will give a better and safer sealing performance for a considerably longer time. Familiarity may have lulled the specifier into missing out on increased efficiencies, reliabilities, service life and avoidance of downtime,” says seal and gasket engineering specialist Vinh Lam, general manager of CSGtech.
“Certainly, the developer of a new machine or process cannot afford to go down an old path until it comes to a dead end in terms of performance required. Also, with fault troubleshooting and reliability issues, companies need to focus very carefully, because there is great upside in getting the choice right for optimum reliability, cost efficiency and speed of a new and improved product to market. Conversely, there is potentially a high price for failure in terms of spills, leaks, product and safety hazards and reputational damage if the job is not done right the first time.”
Material selection isn’t always just a simple matter of reading a compatibility chart or accepting a component manufacturers’ headline statement, such as “food-compatible” or “purpose compatible” at face value. Sometimes such statements are perfectly true in relation to one particular part of a range but may not be intended to apply to the entire range, he says.
The right questions
“Obviously, the best approach is proactive rather than reactive. We suggest you pose yourself some simple questions so you can clearly brief specialist suppliers in this specialist field, instead of moving down a path of old solutions to new problems, or a series of dead-end trials or less-than-optimum solutions. Seal and gasket technology is a fast-moving field and even the best professionals just may not have the time to know it all,” says Lam.
“There are a lot of good and bad options out there, especially when working with composites and raw materials, where capabilities and performance continue to advance. Preliminary questions to be addressed in briefing a seal or gasket supplier include:
1. What range of applications are we looking at?
2. What range of materials do we need to seal?
3. What are the operating conditions, including temperatures, chemicals and pressure loads?
4. What are the particular traceability, compliance and standards criteria you must meet or exceed?
5. What do you like/not like about what is currently being used/proposed?
6. What are the seal/flange conditions? Is there sufficient engineering/load capacity/space available?
7. What is the design life of the joint?
8. What is the target price range? Are we basing on price or performance?
“The more detailed answers you can give the seals and gasket specialist you are briefing, the easier and quicker it will be to take a look at your needs and establish the best and most cost-efficient design solution to meet them (which may involve a tailored solution or even technology that already exists, but that some fields of industry was not familiar with),” says Lam.