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Tech Talk

Does Packing Use More Energy Than Seals?
The Myth
Over the years, fast talking mechanical seal promoters have perpetrated a myth regarding packing versus mechanical seals.
As they begin their presentation the twinkle in their eye prompts many in the audience to reach for their wallets to make sure
their safely tucked away. The speaker describes the function of the braking system of an automobile and how the brake shoes or
pads rub against a metallic surface causing the vehicle to slow down. Then they ask the question “Isn’t this what mechanical
packing does to the shaft in a pump?”. The audience sits in stunned silence as the voodoo permeates the ether freezing their
brain cells and prompting smiles as the metaphor sinks in. Then the speaker lines up for the kill shot with a pause, and finally
the phase “So when you use packing in pumps, it’s like your driving your car with your foot on the brake!” Everyone laughs,
nods in agreement and vows to replace mechanical packing with mechanical seals once they get back to the plant.
Specialists in the audience make a mental note to use this metaphor during their next plant visit to make the argument for
mechanical seals more persuasive. The argument can be effective unless the customer has recently changed the brake pads on
their vehicle, because brake pads are not lubricated, but mechanical packing is! Lubrication reduces friction which reduces the
energy consumed by mechanical packing.

The Reality
Brake Pad Energy Consumption

Energy consumed by an automobile brake pad is = μB ∫ FB (x) dx Where:

μB = Coefficient of friction of the back pad on the disc ~ .45

FB = Force acting on the brake pad = rubber brake lines are rated to 300 Psig
X = Area of the brake pad = 2 inches x 4 inches = 8 inch2
∫ dx = The distance the brake pad travels in one minute =

We calculate the distance an 18 inch tire traveling 30 mph will travel in one minute as follows:

30 mile/hour x 5280 ft/mile x 1 hour/60 minute = Distance traveled in one minute = ~2640 feet
The tire travels (18 inches x Pi)x(1 foot/12 inches) = 4.71 feet per revolution

So, 2640 feet/ 4.71 feet per revolution = 560 RPM

If a brake pad is located 6 inches from the shaft centerline, then surface speed (∫ (x) dx) is calculated as:

6 inches x Pi = π = 3.1416 Constant = 18.844 inches/revolution

560 RPM x 18.844 inches/revolution x 1 foot/12 inches = 880 sfpm

Calculated Energy Consumed = μB ∫ FB (x) dx = .45 x 8 inch2 x 300 lbs/inch2 x 880 feet/minute
Calculated Energy Consumed = 950400 ft-lb/minute – Since 1 ft-lb/minute = .000026 Kilowatts
Calculated Energy Consumed = 24,000 Watts per brake pad at 30 mph for one minute

Is not equal to

A.W. Chesterton Company Telephone: 1-781-481-3947

29 East Street
Winchester, MA 01890 Fax: 1-781-481-3968
©A.W. Chesterton Company, 2006
® Registered trademark owned and licensed by A.W. Chesterton Company in USA and other countries
Actual Energy Consumption
Testing was conducted in our labs using clean de-mineralized water (tap water) under the following conditions:
Shaft size: 1.750 inch diameter
Shaft Speed: 1725 RPM
Seal used: 155 -14 CB/SC FKM Elastomers Average Energy Consumption = 360 Watts
Packing used: (5) rings of ½ inch cross section 1730 packing Average Energy Consumption = 400 Watts
Actual results are shown below:

Some explanation for these results can be found in how the tests were conducted. 1730 mechanical packing is constructed
with a modern braid style and modern lubricants. It was installed by experts sealing a shaft which is pressurized, but does not
drive an impeller (no shaft deflection). Power consumption shown above was measured as the power was applied to the motor
on the test rig, it does not represent actual shaft power consumption.

Real world testing was conducted in a water pumping station using a 125 HP motor running at 880 RPM using a Chesterton
442 RSC/RSC FKM seal versus Chesterton 329 1.250 inch cross section packing (3 Rings) with a SpiralTrac P bushing. The
customer used 3 rings instead of 5 commonly used because they used a SpiralTrac P from Enviroseal. The customer measured
the flow generated versus energy consumed (comparing amperage used) when pumping large volumes of water at different
frequencies (speeds) . The results are shown below. The mechanical packing used about 6% more energy than the seal.

200 200

150 150
I (amps)

I (amps)

100 100

50 50

0 0
4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 20 30 40 50 60
Q (m gd) Shaft Speed (Hz)

packing seal packing seal

The Bottom Line

Mechanical seals versus packing in identical service indicates a small differential energy savings of mechanical
seals over mechanical packing, but not a substantial difference. Factors which contribute to mechanical packing
energy consumption include solids present in the fluid which become embedded in the packing, the experience of the
installers, and the amount of leakage allowed from the mechanical packing. These variables make it impossible to
predict actual energy usage of mechanical packing in rotating equipment.

The financial benefit of split seals over mechanical packing can easily be quantified in avoiding equipment wear
and downtime, product leakage, and the labor costs of re-packing and adjustment over the life of the equipment.
These cost savings will often result in a 6 to 8 month payback for split seals versus mechanical packing.

To minimize energy consumed by mechanical packing an environmental enhancer (SpiralTrac P) is highly

recommended to prevent solids from embedding in the mechanical packing and therefore increasing the coefficient of
friction between the mechanical packing and the shaft. The device also eliminates two rings of packing which will
further reduce the energy consumed by mechanical packing.

A.W. Chesterton Company Telephone: 1-781-481-3947

29 East Street,
Winchester, MA 01890
Fax: 1-781-481-3968
©A.W. Chesterton Company, 2006
® Registered trademark owned and licensed by A.W. Chesterton Company in USA and other countries