You are on page 1of 18

Maintenance Engineering

Mechanical Engineering

How does a mechanical seal in a

pump function?
1 Answer

Mithil Kamble, Graduate Student specializing in Solid


3.9k Views Upvoted by Gurvinder

Arora, Suspension Design Project
Mithil is a Most Viewed Writer
in Mechanical Engineering.
[Where do we need seals?: Source]

Mechanical seals try to solve an age old problem of

preventing pumped fluid from leaking into the
environment. Increasingly strict environmental
standards and harsher operating conditions have made
pump sealing technology an active area of research.

Over the period, as industrial advancement brought

new technologies, seals have evolved to keep up with
the technology.
The olden days:

Stuffing Box Seals-

In earlier days of pumping technology, sealing was a

pretty straight-forward thing and stuffing box seals
were a norm.
Basically, a soft and strong rope (mostly, hemp & jute)
is wound around shaft where shaft enter the pump
casing. This winding is called a packing. The packing is
stuffed inside a chamber which is cast in pump casing
around hole through which shaft enters the casing.
This packing forms a barrier and prevents leakage of

This is a the simplest and most inexpensive sealing

solution. Unfortunately, cheap things don't last long.
Due to continuous wear the packing is needed to be
replaced regularly. Packing can not contain high
pressures and a small amount of leakage is always
present. And sealing toxic/inflammable fluid using this
seal is catastrophic.

[Edit 1: Stuffing box seals, even though very old

school, are still widely used where water is pumped
and leakage is not a problem. Furthermore, this small
leakage is essential as this very leakage removes the
frictional heat created due to contact of stuffing and
the shaft. Without this leak-off the stuffing would
literally burn due to heat.]

Lip Seals:

Incrementally better option, over stuffing box seals, is

a lip seal.

Instead of stuffing, a polymer/rubber ring is slid on

shaft and held in position using a spring. The thickness
of ring seats flush against circular gap between shaft
and casing where shaft enters the casing.

This seal can withstand relatively higher pressure and

at low pressures it seals the liquid completely.
However, this can not be used in hot operating
conditions or when corrosive fluid is involved. And
again, sealing high pressures is not possible when lip
seal is used.

The present situation:

As it is evident from the discussion so far, we can't seal

high pressure, high temperature, corrosive and toxic
fluids using conventional methods. Moreover, failure
to effectively seal such fluids may lead to fatalities
and/or environmental damage.

Gradually, over the years, mechanical seals were

developed to address these issues.American Petroleum
Institute adopted API 682 in 1994. This standard
stipulates principles which should be followed while
manufacturing, installing and maintaining mechanical

The development of Mechanical Seals:

The basic idea behind designing mechanical seal is

sealing all the leak paths which are present in the shaft
and pump casing assembly.

As the crudest (and most unimaginative) solution we

could have something like this for a seal:
The shaft has a step which seats flush against the pump
housing and seals the opening through which shaft

Obviously, this is not practicable. Metal to metal

contact would create tremendous noise, heat and wear.
We would have to replace entire pump every few
A considerably better way would be this:

Instead of creating a step in the shaft, we could make

two highly finished carbon fiber rings. One of them
could sit stationary inside housing and the other would
rotate with shaft. The rings would be placed flush
against each other so they effectively seal the leakage
path. The contact path between rings, which is now
sealed, is called 'primary leakage path'.
However, there is still a problem. Some fluid can still
leak through gap between shaft & rotating ring as well
as through gap between casing and stationary ring.
These leaking paths are called 'secondary leakage

These secondary path can be sealed using O-ring:

O rings are essentially high quality polymer rings of
various cross sections which can seal thin gaps even at
high temperature and pressures. Using two O-rings as
depicted above we could seal both the
aforementioned secondary leakage paths. Now, we
can take a sigh of relief because we have sealed all
possible paths which are present. But, can we?

We have sealed primary leakage path using two mating

rings. However, they won't seal effectively until they
are pressed together. To provide this pressing force, we
can use springs:
Now, the job is almost done. We need a housing for the
seal which will hold everything together and ensure
rotating ring rotates with the shaft.
A housing holds spring, O ring and rotating ring
together using fasteners like Allen bolts. This fastening
ensures that the torque is transmitted to seal and the
whole assembly rotates with the shaft.

Now we have a complete, ready to use mechanical seal.

It should be noted that there are many variations in the
design. Mechanical seals can be further sub-divided
into various categories depending pump design,
installation fashion, working conditions etc. Every seal
design is unique in certain respects and must be
treated individually.

However, the working philosophy is the same for all

the seals.

[Edit 2: As Namrata rightly pointed out, maintaining

the seal properly is essential to its functioning. The
mating rings move relative to each other which
creates a lot of frictional heat. If the heat is not
removed, the seal is bound to fail prematurely. Hence
API 682 specifies cooling plans for various types of
seals as well. If interested, you can find the various
cooling plans here.]
What are the fundamentals behind rotary mechanical seals?

1 Answer

David Caroline


A basic mechanical seal is not a complex device. It consists primarily of a rotary seal face with a driving mechanism
which rotates at the same speed as the pump shaft, a stationary seal face which mates with the rotary and is
retained using a gland or in some pump models an integral stuffing box cover, a tension assembly which keeps the
rotary face firmly positioned against the stationary face to avoid leakage when the pump is not in operation, and
static sealing gasket(s) and elastomers strategically
located to complete the seal assembly.

Mechanical seals are engineered for most pumps, mixer and agitator applications in maintenance. In many
cases the designs have been proven to be workhorses over years of use. In others seals must be designed for evolving
industrial demands.

Written Mar 2

Upvote Downvote



Mithil Bhate, mechanical engineer, sailor

They are packings that are put in between joints that may leak.
Like in pipes or tubes . Even in non carrying parts like a joint in a grease box to avoid grease getting out.
In genral terms known as packing or gasket
comes in different shapes sizes and material depending on the requirements of the job.

What are the factors included in mechanical seal failure?






Can you answer this question?


2 Answers

David Caroline


1. Abrasives: Many applications can attack a seal by being abrasive thereby prematurely wearing the
seal faces away.

2. Speed: By being to fast for the seal, causing excessive wear on the seal faces, as well as causing
excessive heat which usually attacks (or melts) the secondary seals (often o-rings), permitting leakage through
those passages being sealed
3. Chemical attack. If not selected properly, secondary seals such as o-rings, rubber boots, and rubber
gaskets, can be attacked and eventually give way. Not only do the daily media being sealed must be
concerned, but also any flush fluids used in keeping systems clean must be considered.

4. System Shock, water hammer, and vibration, can all have detrimental effects on seals, particularly
seal faces, especially seal faces such as carbon (the most common) Silicon Carbide and Ceramic are all prone
to cracking, fracturing and breakage when subjected to vibration (often caused by failing bearings), system
shock and water hammer. The cause of the failure is often the least obvious and can appear to be the result of
an inferior seal. The seal, will need to be adapted to withstand system shock, water hammer and vibration by
utilizing "hard faces" such as Tungsten carbide.

Where can I learn about mechanical face seals, high speed rotary seals
and sealing in general?






Can you answer this question?


3 Answers

Williams David

An end face mechanical seal, also referred to as a mechanical face seal but usually simply as a mechanical
seal, is a type of seal utilised in rotating equipment, such aspumps, mixers, blowers, andcompressors. When a
pump operates, the liquid could leak out of the pump between the rotating shaft and the stationary pump casing.
Since the shaft rotates, preventing this leakage can be difficult. Earlier pump models usedmechanical
packing (otherwise known as Gland Packing) to seal the shaft. Since World War II, mechanical seals have replaced
packing in many applications.

An end face mechanical seal uses both rigid and flexible elements that maintain contact at a sealing interface and
slide on each other, allowing a rotating element to pass through a sealed case. The elements are both hydraulically
and mechanically loaded with a spring or other device to maintain contact