July 2019

Low Temperature Gasket Material

Many elastomeric gasket materials have a problem with low temperatures. Here we’ll look at some applications that pose challenges and suggest low-temperature gasket materials worth considering.

Low-Temperature Gasket Material Applications

Seals and gaskets are used in many low-temperature environments. One of the most common is food storage. Freezers and cold rooms are typically kept between -80 and 20°F, depending on the application. Pharmaceuticals and medical products are other industries with low-temperature storage requirements.

Industries that do product testing often employ climatic chambers. These need effective seals to minimize the expense of maintaining low temperatures, and it’s also important to consider the equipment inside. And as Chicagoland residents understand, midwest winters can challenge sealing materials used outdoors, especially if exposed to wind.

Glass transition and TR10

Polymers get their flexibility from chains of molecules moving against one another. As temperatures fall the chains are less able to move and eventually become fixed. Materials scientists call this point the glass transition temperature.

For people who need to choose and use gasket material a more useful indicator of low-temperature flexibility is the TR10 value. This was explained in, “What is TR-10 (temperature of retraction) for Gasket Material?

Good Low-Temperature Gasket Material Choices

Oil-resistant FKM only goes down to around 5°F. NBR is useable as low as -20°F and some specialized grades will go lower. However, these aren’t low enough for many freezer-type applications. Silicon is good for temperatures as low as -65°F and fluorosilicon will go to -80°F but both are expensive. That leaves cost-effective EPDM as an excellent low-temperature gasket material.

The TR10 value for EPDM is between -49 and 9°F, depending on grade. That makes EPDM seals a good choice for many commercial and industrial low-temperature storage facilities. Furthermore, EPDM is available in FDA-approved grades for food industry use.

The chief limitation of EPDM seals is poor resistance to mineral oils and hydrocarbon products. They are good with steam and hot water though, as well as caustic cleaners.

Consider price as well as performance

In low temperatures, many gasket materials become too stiff to seal effectively. Silicon offers good performance but less expensive EPDM comes close for many applications.

CIP Process and Affect on Seals and Gaskets

PTFE seals are widely used in the food and beverage industries. One reason is that they won’t contaminate foodstuffs. A second is that PTFE resists attack by acidic products like fruit juices. And third, they stand up well to the intensive cleaning and sterilization processes used in those industries.

Here’s a closer look at how those processes influence gasket selection.

Gasket Cleaning Protocols:  CIP

Food and beverage (F&B) manufacturers are acutely aware of the risks of product contamination. That’s why regular cleaning and sterilization is a way of life. Facilities producing liquid products often employ Clean-in-Place (CIP) protocols.

CIP is where cleaning fluids are pumped through the pipes, tanks, mixers, kettles and filling equipment. A combination of aggressive chemicals, turbulence, and rinsing remove contamination from surfaces that contact the food and could otherwise harbor pathogens.

The alternative, Clean-out-of Place (COP) entails stripping down plumbing systems to remove components like valves for cleaning. For many F&B companies, it’s slower and less effective than CIP.

Gasket Cleaning:  The CIP environment

CIP usually starts with a hot water pre-rinse. This is followed by running caustic soda through the system at 80°C (176°F). Caustic soda, chemical formula NaOH, (sodium hydroxide,) is highly corrosive. It kills and removes practically everything it comes into contact with. The caustic is then followed by thorough rinsing to get the surfaces food-ready.

Some plants and processes use acid in place of caustic soda. Nitric or peracetic acids are common choices. Steam and ozone are other alternatives sometimes used.

Gasket Cleaning Impact on Gasket Material Selection

Materials like NBR, EPDM, and neoprene have no problem handling CIP temperatures. Where they struggle is with resistance to acids, alkalies and often also water, steam, and ozone.

PTFE seals and gaskets function at temperatures up to 260°C (500°F). More importantly, they won’t react with any chemicals, whether acidic or alkaline. In addition, most grades of PTFE don’t impart any taint to product and are FDA-approved.

If you’d like to learn more about the advantages of PTFE seals in processes that need cleaning and sterilization, contact a material specialist at Hennig Gasket.