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Labyrinth Seals and Lip Seals: An

Economic Comparison

Heinz P. Bloch, Process Machinery Consulting
Tags: contamination control
As consumers and manufacturers of all kinds of products, we are often asked to
sort out the claims and counterclaims of advertisers and marketers. Thats
understanda!le and will continue in any competitive society. Being informed and
focused, and always aiming to "compare apples with apples# is !oth !eneficial and
appropriate. $ good e%ample of the "apples to apples# a%iom is the &uropean
technical pu!lication wherein an engineer from the 'nited (ingdom reported on the
adverse effects of moisture intrusion on !earing life. He made a reasona!le point
that users must guard against lu!e contamination and that !earing protector seals
incorporating the rotating la!yrinth principle make economic sense.
Heres a way to )uantify !earing life with and without a contaminated lu!ricant.
How Bad is Contamination?
Ma*or !earing manufacturers have pu!lished authoritative te%ts on the effects of
lu!ricant contamination. 'sing illustrations such as +igure ,, plotting the ratio of
the lu!ricants operating viscosity over its rated lu!ricant viscosity -v.v,/ and
displaying it on the a!scissa against a life ad*ustment factor a displayed on the
ordinate, it is possi!le to understand the importance of lu!ricant contamination. 0n
+igure ,, 1egion 0 is applica!le only to situations with utmost cleanliness in the
lu!rication gap and moderate !earing loading, which are rather unrealistic for
process pumps. 1egion 00 indicates a high degree of cleanliness has !een achieved,
which is possi!le with modern !earing protector seals -+igure 2/. +inally, 1egion 000
might !e typical for !earing environments e%posed to an industrial environment,
such as !earing housings without effective protector seals.
Figure 1. Contamination Adjustment Factor a vs. Viscosity Ratio2
'sing +igure , and assuming v.v,3,, we might o!tain a3 4.5 in 1egion 000 and a3
, in 1egion 00. Therefore, using effective !earing protector seals would have
improved !earing life !y a factor of 5. This presents powerful analytical evidence in
support of industry trends toward !etter !earing housing protection.
Figure 2. Lip ea! "#op $ortion% and
&odern Rotating La'yrint( ea! "Lower $ortion%
Lip ea!s vs. Rotating La'yrint( ea!s
Bearing protector seals are not a novel idea and users of $P06compliant pumps
have seen stationary and rotating la!yrinth !earing protector seals for decades.
7ew styles of !earing protector seals have !een descri!ed in technical *ournals
dealing with lu!rication and sealing issues8 thus, the article !y the '( engineer was
appropriate. 9hats of interest is that after printing the engineers article, the editor
of a &uropean pu!lication commented that lip seals seem to !e permanently
denigrated when they are not used in an optimum configuration. The automotive
industry uses cartridge arrangements -cassettes/ to what appears to !e good
effect. They are widely used on trucks and !uses, which now often have a half
million6mile warranty. This must !e in e%cess of ,4,444 hours, so it would !e
potentially ade)uate for many intermediate duty pumps, according to the
-&uropean/ editor.
But was a lu!ricant contamination issue involved: 9as the editor correct in
concluding that lip seals are potentially ade)uate for many intermediate pumps:
The rolling element !earings of literally !illions of electric motors and hundreds of
millions of automo!iles, pumps and other industrial machines are protected against
lu!ricant loss and contamination !y lip seals. ;ip seals have served industry for
more than a century in applications where the elastomeric component received
ample lu!rication with moderate shaft surface velocities. This perhaps, is the
summarized answer to the first )uestion. 0t addresses the issue regarding the
ade)uacy of lip seals for centrifugal pumps and the fact that lip seals are not
deemed satisfactory for $P06compliant pumps.
There are, however, relevant differences !etween automotive applications and
process pumps in modern industry. $lthough a <4 mm -2.<= inch/ automo!ile drive
shaft operating at a ma%imum speed of 2,444 rpm -<,52< mm.s or 2>>.= inches
per second -ips// represents a rather strenuous application for a motor vehicle, it is
far from the ,2,2=4 mm.s, or ?>2 ips ru!!ing velocity of a @= mm -A2.=@ inch/,
5,@44 rpm shaft in a centrifugal pump.
0t is universally accepted that ru!!ing wear increases as the cu!e of the velocity
ratio. Therefore, if a well6designed lip seal in an automo!ile has a life of ,,444,444
miles at =4 mph, this would e)uate to 24,444 operating hours on a set of lip seals.
Bn the industrial e)uipment e%ample and at a surface velocity ,.@< times greater,
the wear life would !e diminished !y the e%ponent 5, resulting in a factor of a!out
=. 0n this case, lip seals would last ?,444 hours C less than half a year of continuous
operation and not good enough. 0nterestingly, the >4 percent failure rate given for
lip seals after 2,>44 hours of operation at testing conditions mandated !y applica!le
'nited Dtates military specifications seems agreea!le with this calculation.

ea!ing C(oices
Based on industrial e%perience, it is reasona!le to assume two different scenarios
for the !earing housing seals illustrated in +igure 2. $ lip seal is shown on the upper
portion of the shaft8 ;ets assume it costs E=. The lower portion shows a modern
rotating la!yrinth seal and is priced at E,44.
cenario 1
To avoid shaft fretting, moisture intrusion and premature !earing failure -assuming
la!or and materials to remedy a !earing failure cost E@,444/, we replace a E= lip
seal twice a year -Ta!le ,/.
#a'!e 1. Lip ea!s
$lternatively, a E,44 modern dynamic B6ring rotating la!yrinth seal can !e
replaced after two years of operation -Ta!le 2/.
#a'!e 2. La'yrint( ea!s
;a!orF E2=4.year8 materialF E=4.year8 total per yearF E544. 0n this comparison,
modern rotating la!yrinth seals are clearly favored.
cenario 2
1un to failure. The la!yrinth seal degrades and the !earing fails after two years.
$lthough no production outage time is assumed, the repair costs the plant E@,444,
-E5,444 per year/ which is unaccepta!le.
)nergy *ssues
$s long as a lip seal is operationally effective and has not degraded to the point of
shaft wear or elastomer lip wear, it is reasona!le to assume that ,@4 watts of
frictional energy are consumed !y an average seal. $t E4.,4.k9h, that e)uates to
E,?4 per year.
Dome sources assume the cost of proper waste oil disposal per gallon is e)ual to
that of the new oil. Therefore, if in that instance and in Dcenario ,, precautionary
lu!e oil replacements -oil changes/ were performed and a lu!e oil and disposal
charge were factored in, the picture would further shift in favor of modern dynamic
B6ring rotating la!yrinth seals.
Re!ia'i!ity+,ocused $ump -sers
9hile most people will agree that lip seals have their place in disposa!le appliances
and machines which, for unspecified reasons, must fre)uently !e dismantled,
engineers should always look at the full picture. 9hile in no way claiming that all lip
seal applications are past their prime, new alternatives are availa!le for the
relia!ility6focused and energy6conscious user community. 'nfortunately, lip seals
rarely measure up to the e%pectation of the ma*ority of intermediate duty pump
users. The fact that lip seals are availa!le in cassette configurations makes no
difference. Gour pumps deserve !etter.
,. Heinz P. Bloch and $. Budris. Pump Users Handbook: Life Extension. 2nd
edition. +airmont Pu!lishing Company, ;il!urn, Heorgia, page ,2,, 244@.
2. +$H Bearings. Ball and Roller Bearings. Dchweinfurt, Hermany.
5. $&DD&$; plc. 1otherham, 'nited (ingdom and (no%ville, Tennessee.