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Elastomers: A Beginners Guide | FlowGeeks

Elastomers: A Beginners Guide


Posted by Liz Braden | 1 comment

Whether for a gasket, valve seat, or O-ring, the choice of elastomer might seem like a minor decision, but it can have a major impact. If a seal material is a poor fit for the application, you could run into any number of problems, from swelling, to peeling or cracking. Needless to say, these could be a big deal in a sanitary process. But how do you decide what elastomer to use? Your best bet is always to look at what is already being used in the same or a similar application. With variables like chemical compatibility, temperature, pressure, and mechanical wear, its almost impossible to predict with certainty what the best material will be. In most cases, several materials will work, but you might see a longer life in some. At that point, its a judgment call where the life can be weighed against the cost. If youre happy with how a gasket is performing and youre happy with the price, there is usually no need to change materials. But what if youre starting from scratch? STANDARDS First, consider the standards you must meet. Its easy to think that EPDM is EPDM , but theres more to the story. An EPDM O-ring could be perfectly safe for sanitary processing, or it could contain any number of potentially harmful components, depending on how the O-ring is made. Its possible for these components to leech into your finished goods. Thats why its important to be specific about your standards. Are the components considered food grade? Do they meet FDA standards? BioPharm processers often require that seals meet UPS Class VI standards. Sometimes a choice in curing compounds is offered. For instance, you may see silicone that has been cured using peroxide. However, many companies are concerned about peroxides contaminating their product, so a silicone cured with platinum is preferred. TYPES OF SEALS
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Elastomers: A Beginners Guide | FlowGeeks

Next, think about the job the elastomer will perform. A static seal that sees no movement might have different needs than a dynamic one. If you have a dynamic seal like a valve seat or an O-ring on a moving component, there are a few more things to consider. An abrasive product will likely be harder on a dynamic seal than on something as passive as a Tri-Clamp gasket. Sugar syrups, for example, can be tricky with dynamic seals. In general, they are very benign and work well with any elastomer. However, sugar crystals can build up on seals (sometimes called plating). On a valve seat, the crystals can then behave like sandpaper every time the seat closes, quickly wearing away the seat. When abrasion is a concern, PTFE (a.k.a. Teflon), is often the best choice. Another consideration for the type of seal is the resilience of the elastomer. Buna and EPDM have good resilience and bounce back more like natural rubber when compressed. Theyre great for a good seal, especially after repeated compression, such as in a butterfly valve seat or a gasket for a fitting that is often removed. Viton can be somewhat flexible and resilient, but becomes less flexible at lower temperatures. PTFE, or Teflon, has no memory and can cold flow, causing it to change shape when compressed. Often you can get an adequate seal on the first use, but if you remove a Tri-Clamp fitting and replace it with the same gasket, you might start to see some leakage. For this reason, envelope-style gaskets were created. These are PTFE gaskets with a core of a more resilient material like EPDM , providing the mechanical and chemical toughness of PTFE with the resilience of rubber. CHEMICAL COMPATIBILITY Chemical compatibility is the next big factor. Here are some general guidelines to follow: Oils or High-Fat Products: Buna, while usually the least expensive option, is often the top performer when it comes to oil-based products. EPDM might be more expensive than Buna, but when it comes to fats and oils, it is a poor choice and inferior to Buna. Viton works well with most oils, as does PTFE. Either can come in handy when your oils are at a high temperature. Silicone is not always a good choice with oils if you dont have prior experience with it in your application, check a compatibility chart first. Acids and Caustics: As far as acids and caustics go, its usually best to consult a chemical compatibility chart. Because an elastomer might react differently depending on the type of chemical and concentration, its difficult to predict compatibility. In general terms, Buna is usually acceptable up to about 2% caustic or 0.5% acid. EPDM does fairly well with both. Viton works better with caustics than acids, but can be acceptable for either. Silicone can be finicky its best to consult a compatibility chart. Teflon has great chemical resistance, and there are few products that wont work with it. Since there is an endless list of chemicals out there, it can be helpful to consult a chemical
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Elastomers: A Beginners Guide | FlowGeeks

compatibility chart to inform your decision. There are quite a few available on the Internet or supplied by vendors. Cole-Parmer has a handy application on their website that lists quite a few chemicals and materials: http://www.coleparmer.com/techinfo/chemcomp.asp. These charts can be a great guideline but are no substitute for real-world testing. TEMPERATURE A final consideration is the temperature that your elastomer will experience. As with the other success factors for an elastomer, we can only speak in general terms until we try an elastomer in the specific application. Time at temperature, variations in temperature, and the combination of temperature with other chemical and mechanical stresses can all affect elastomer life. As a guideline, here are rough high-temperature limits for some common elastomers: ELASTOMER Buna EPDM Viton (SFY, Stem-Resistant Flouroelastomer) Teflon (PTFE) Silicone EXOTIC MATERIALS You may sometimes run into an elastomer outside of the usual suspects. Any number of brand name and specialized materials are on the market and might be offered as options for some types of sanitary equipment. You might see names like Kalrez, PEEK, or Delrin on a brochure from time to time. Each of these has strengths and weaknesses like any other material, and there are a few situations in the sanitary processing world that call for specialized materials. For example, steam-in-place operations can cause headaches with traditional elastomers. Although they can resist the heat, silicone tears and deforms easily, while PTFE can lead to leaks when it cold flows. Even envelope gaskets can wear quickly in this tough environment. Several gasket manufacturers now offer a material made of PTFE and fine particles of stainless steel. The gasket is inflexible, but has the same temperature resistance as PTFE and resists cold flow. Other specialty elastomers include special colors, which can aid in visibility, and metal-detectable elastomers, allowing your in-line metal detectors to catch a broken gasket as well as a lost nut or bolt. PRICE Can the cost of a gasket influence your decision? Absolutely. The same gasket that cost less than 50 cents in Buna could run $1.50 as an envelope gasket with Viton and PTFE, or $5.00 in a PTFE /stainless compound like Silverback or Tuf-Steel. As with anything, youre in good shape if you can find the lowest-cost item that will meet your needs.
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Elastomers: A Beginners Guide | FlowGeeks

The only way to be sure of what works is to try them out in your application, starting with the lowestcost option that makes sense. You might discover a trade-off; while you may get a longer life out of a Viton gasket than EPDM , that extra life may or may not be worth the added cost to you. Also, we know that a higher-cost elastomer is not always a better choice in your application. In many cases, youll find that Buna is a low-cost option, with EPDM coming in a little higher. PTFE, platinum-cured silicone , and Viton tend to be in a higher price class, with Viton usually the highest of the three. Envelope gaskets and specialty compounds can be higher still. But keep in mind that even that order could be totally reversed, depending on how common an elastomer is in the type of seal youre discussing. There can be a lot to think about when picking an elastomer, so a little gasket can be a big deal. The good news is that once youve found a few materials that work, you no longer have to start from scratch. And if youre stumped, any good supplier will be able to help walk you through the decision-making process.

One comment

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Myra says: November 27, 2013 at 5:39 am Hi Liz, Great post! Thanks for the valve details here. I had a great read.

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