Sixty years after their inception, o-rings continue to maintain their familiar toroidal shape, but not much else. In fact, a user from a decade ago would be hard-pressed to recognize the demands being made by today’s users on this most popular sealing technology.
Since patented in 1937 by Danish machinist Neil Christensen, o-ring technology has undergone a wide range of advances that have seen it maintain its position as a favorite sealing mechanism through six decades. More than that, the technology has spread into hitherto unpredicted areas, everything from electronics to space shuttles and aircraft.
And so we have to ask, how has the o-ring technology evolved over the years that has allowed it to not only stay relevant but become more important across several industries? And what are the latest advancements in this technology, both in its versatility and in user expectations? Here are some answers to these questions below.
The Latest in O-Ring Technology
In some ways, notably the shape, the o-ring has not changed at all. However, in a lot more ways, even the inventor would be hard-pressed to put a name to the o-ring as it is being employed across several industries today. The most notable changes can be found in the performance expectations from both manufacturers and users on this sealing mechanism. With good reason, of course. Over the years, in the bid to make it more effective and reduce failures, the o-ring has been refined to offer more with less, especially in these areas:
Testing and Characterization
In the decades since its inception, there have been many advancements in the analysis and characterization of manufacturing materials, including polymers. With the advent of transferrable analytical methods, useful analytical techniques in other materials are being translated to analyze and characterize o-rings and other sealing mechanisms with resounding success. The more detailed characterization capacity of new testing methods enables the development of new materials through material combinations at a molecular level.
Also, as the average seal user moves away from material specifications to performance specifications of seals, new and improved testing capabilities have been developed to accurately reproduce the end-point effects of hostile environments on o-rings. This makes predictive analysis and failure-modes-effects analysis possible to predict the modes and effects of o-ring failures before ever releasing them for use.
Previously, users of sealing mechanisms accepted leakage as a necessary evil in hydraulic systems. It wasn’t a question of if the seal would fail, it was how long it would take to fail. However, recent advancements in sealing technology have convinced users that leakage should no longer be a part of systems. And reasonable or not, manufacturers have to live up to this expectation. They do this mostly by manipulating the materials used in manufacturing the o-ring (this is one of the most vital changes in o-ring technology).
Consumers nowadays focus more on the effectiveness of the material components of an o-ring when applied to specific use-cases. How well does it resist heat? What is the temperature range it can be used in? How susceptible is it to fluids and chemicals? Meeting and improving on these consumer expectations requires consistent testing of new materials to determine the most effective polymers to achieve a particular material characteristic. O-rings these days are an amalgam of materials that usually include:
- polymers (elastomer)
- inert fillers, such as carbon black
- accelerators, activators, retarders and curing agents
- special additives like pigments, flame retardants, etc.
Find the Right O-Ring
O-rings have come a long way since they were commandeered by the military during World War II, yet they remain essentially the same. A sealing mechanism that is useful across multiple industries in a wide range of applications. When it comes to finding the right o-ring for your needs, it’s imperative to start with the right supplier. Apple Rubber, for example, offers niche expertise to guide you in selecting the right type of seal for your operation.