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How Much Do You Know About The History Of Mechanical Seals And Other Seals?
Mar 29, 2018

How much do you know about the history of mechanical seals and other seals?

Mechanical Seals Around 1900, a three-stage expansion steam engine was born at the peak of the steam era.

The Titanic was killed by two such engines. For a mechanical seal designer, it is interesting that the sliding piston seal never handles pressures exceeding 5 bar/0.5 MPa/72 psi, even when the steam engine power is as high as 16000 hp/12000 kWh. This is partly due to the fact that the mechanical seals that were available at that time could not withstand too much pressure, otherwise there would be a risk of failure.

This has become the history of reciprocating mechanical seals.

Rubber and leather products

In the 1940s, Charles Goodyear received a patent on the use of sulfur to treat rubber.

Since 1858, rubber has been used as a static seal in food packaging bottles, but dynamic seals still tend to be made of oil-impregnated leather. This method was applied to the famous Brunei atmospheric railway in 1845, using the principle of a large steam cylinder. A 380 mm/15 in. long pipe has a sealed slot on the side between the main wheels. The locomotive contains a paddle wheel that will shoot through the slot and act as a cylinder piston.

In addition to adverse reactions to the rusting of leather products and pipes, the pipes are still lubricated with animal fats, which will lead to rats whose sharp teeth have made the idea of vacuum-driven railways confusing.

Finally in 1887, rubber seals were used for the first time in steam engine piston rods.

However, leather is still the preferred sealing material, and this concept continues until the 20th century.

In 1902, French engineer George Crowder made the first machine for liquefied air. He successfully used a reciprocating steam engine in which the piston seal was made of degreased, leather-filled filler without any lubrication. He raised the pressure to 40 bar/4 MPa/580 psi, cooled and then expanded, thus minimizing energy loss and creating a record of minimum temperature.

Rotary and O-rings

Then, starting in the late 1920s, rubber seals began to enter the conventional service sector and rotary shafts began to use synthetic rubber seals. At the same time, the use of rubber seals in Europe was later than in the United States, but with the introduction of the seal lip seal, its application has been more widely recognized. Surprisingly, however, it was not until 1937 that O-rings were designed in the United States as precise annular rubber parts and installed in precisely-sized grooves. This allows a reliable and tight seal of the sliding piston in the cylinder, which was patented in 1939. However, despite that, the O-ring has not achieved commercial success until the rapid mechanical development in the war began to use it extensively.

Rapid development continues until now

O-rings are just the beginning; within a few years after their invention, humans also invented a wide variety of seals using special elastomeric materials, many of which are used for special purposes. Since then, dynamic reciprocating seals have developed various designs and invented many different materials, but all of these are due to the original design concept.

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Susie Ding


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