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2/27/2017 UsingLabyrinthSealstoControlContaminantIngression

UsingLabyrinthSealstoControl
ContaminantIngression
WesCash,NoriaCorporation
Tags:contaminationcontrol
MachineryLubrication(8/2013)

DuringmytravelstovariousfacilitiesacrosstheUnitedStates,Iamoftenaskedaboutthebestwayto
keepcontaminantsoutofamachine.Iusuallyexplainthatitbeginswhenthelubricantsarereceived
andhowtheyarehandled,andcontinuesuntiltheyareputintoservice.Atthatpointitbecomesa
functionoflimitingcontaminantingression.

Simplemodificationstobreathersandsightglassescanbebeneficial,butshaftsealsarejustas
importantinthisprocess.Labyrinthtypesealsarecommondevicesforcontaminantexclusion,and
whenproperlymaintained,theycangreatlyinfluencethereliabilityofthecomponentsinwhichthey
areinstalled.


Acomparisonofvarioussealmaterials(Ref.Seal&Survive,SealSchoolHandbook)

Asealsfunctionismultifaceted.Notonlyisitattachedtoamachinetokeepparticlesandoutside
contaminantsfromgettingin,butitalsomustkeepwhatisinsidethemachinewhetheritisoil,
processfluidorabarrierfluidinside.OnestudybyExxonMobilshowedthattheamountofoillostis
fourtimesthecapacityofthemachine.Theneedforminimizingleakagewhileprolongingthemachines
operatinglifeismorecriticaltoday,asthedemandsforreliabilityandthepenaltiesforfailurecontinue
torise.

Standardlipsealswilllimitcertaincontaminantsfromenteringandrestrictsomeleakage,buttheyare
subjecttofailure,especiallyinsystemswithhighpressureorextremeambientconditions.Onelimiting
factorofthesetypesofsealsistheconstructionmaterial,witheachelastomerhavingitsownstrengths
andweaknesses.

Thebasicconceptoflabyrinthsealsistoreducecontaminantingressionnotonlybyrestrictingthe
clearancethroughwhichparticlesenterbutalsobycreatingareasofturbulentflowtoexclude
contaminants.Thesetypesofsystemsprovidebetterparticleexclusionandlesslubricantleakagethan
standardlipseals,whichcontacttheshaftandrubthesurfaceduringoperation.

LipSealsvs.LabyrinthSeals
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2/27/2017 UsingLabyrinthSealstoControlContaminantIngression

Shaftsealsmustbeproperlyselectedandmaintained.Somesealsdoagoodjob
ofretainingoilorgreasebutdoalousyjobofexcludingcontamination.Lipseals
areaprimeexample,particularlytheonesthatareonlydirectedinward.These
typesofsealstendtowearafteraperiodoftimebecausetheymakerubbing
contactwiththeshaft.Eventually,thesealsnolongerfunctionwellfromthe
standpointofbothoilretentionandcontaminantexclusion.


LipSealLabyrinthSeal

Ontheotherhand,alabyrinthsealisnoncontacting,soitwillnothavethewear
outcondition.Thesesealsareexcellentforexcludingparticlecontaminationand
moisture,eveniftheresasprayofwaternearby.Sobothoilretentionand
contaminantexclusionareatamuchhigherlevelofperformancecomparedto
contactingmechanicalsealsandlipseals.

Ofcourse,thedisadvantageofusinglabyrinthsealsisthattheyaremore
expensive.Generally,youwillneedtoretrofittheseontheequipmentandwill
incurthecostoftheirinstallation.However,labyrinthsealswilllastlongerand
performbetter.

Labyrinthsealsareconstructedinmultiplepieces.Onepiece,knownasthestator,isaffixedtothe
machineandremainsstationary.Theotherpiece,calledtherotor,isattachedtotheshaftandrotates
withthemotionofthesystem.Thetwopiecesinterlocktoeffectivelysealoutthemajorityof
contaminantswhileholdinginthelubricantorprocessfluid.

Thesetypesofsealsarenoncontacting,whichmeansthatthetwoopposingfacesdonottoucheach
other.Theyarealsoconsideredfrictionless,astherotorandstatorareseparatedbyaverysmallgap.
Inmanyinstances,thisgapcanbeassmallas0.003inches,whichequatestoroughly76microns.This
maysoundlikealargeopeningincomparisontothe1micronlubricantfilminsidearollingelement
bearing,butbecauseofthepaththatthecontaminantmusttaketoactuallyreachthebearing,thisgap
ismorethanadequate.

Allcontaminantstryingtoenterthebearinghousingmustgothroughthesealsmaze(labyrinth)of
turnsandanglesinordertoreachthebearing.Onthepaththroughalloftheseturns,particlesare
constantlysubjectedtocentrifugalforcesduetotherotationalmotionoftheshaft,andonlyavery
smallnumbermakeitthroughtheentirelengthoftheseal.

Avarietyofdifferentlabyrinthsealsareavailable,frombronzeandstainlesssteeltoplastic.The
constructionofthesealsmayevenchangebetweenbrands,withsomeemployingmagnetsandothers
simplyusingOringstoprovidethenecessaryseatforthehousingandshaft.However,theyalloperate
onthesameprincipleandmustbeproperlyinstalledtoworkcorrectly.

Whenlookingforoptionstoboostreliabilityandminimizebearingfailures,considerthesealsthatare
inuse.Inareasofhighairborneparticulatematterorheavywashdownareas,alabyrinthstyleseal

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2/27/2017 UsingLabyrinthSealstoControlContaminantIngression

canhelplimittheingressofcontaminantsandprolongmachinelife.Withproperlubricationand
contaminantexclusiondevices,manybearingscancomeclosetoachievingtheirdesignlife.

References

EG&GSealol,Seal&Survive,SealSchoolHandbook,Revision3.

Fitch,J.C.,Scott,R.,&Leugner,L.(2012),ThePracticalHandbookofMachineryLubricationFourth
Edition.

Inpro/Seal,BearingIsolators.

MaintenanceTechnology(1991),BeyondPredictiveMaintenance.

Neale,M.J.,Drives&Seals:ATribologyHandbook.

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