Gasket Material

Gasket Material Selection

It’s said that what comes out of the joint is what goes back into the joint, but sometimes we’re asked if there’s a better material to use. That’s because the expense of replacing a gasket often far outweighs the cost of the part. When that’s the case a little extra spent on better gasket material might save a lot.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to the material question. All we can say is, “It depends.” Here’s why, along with some guidance on selecting the best gasket material.

Four Key Criteria

It’s impossible to determine an appropriate material without knowing the temperature, environment, media and pressure the gasket will experience. It’s also important to determine the actual range of every parameter and every operating condition. Cleaning with caustic agents, for example, creates very different gasket challenges than handling a benign fluid like milk.

Temperature

This refers to the temperature of the media. Many elastomers harden when cold, making them less able to resist pressure and reducing their ability to flex as the joint changes size. Neoprene, for example, has a lower limit of -40°F while high-performance fluoroelastomer (FKM) only goes to -10°F.

Environment

Temperature is one factor, sunlight another. A gasket used outdoors in a midwestern winter could see low temperatures while one exposed to the desert sun will get extremely hot. In addition, UV light damages some common gasket materials. NBR, for example, has poor UV resistance while EPDM holds up much better.

Media

Some gasket materials suffer swelling when exposed to oils and other will oxidize rapidly. Brake fluid is incompatible with nitrile rubber and FKM while silicone and EPDM are a poor match for gasoline.

Pressure

The pressure inside a pipe or enclosure can force gasket material to extrude out sideways. Harder materials generally hold up better but require higher clamping forces. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to consider PTFE, spiral-wound or metal gaskets.

Seek Advice

Every gasket application is different and it’s never easy to say which is the best material to use. Start by determining the four criteria listed above, then consult a material specialist.

Oxygen Compatible Materials

Many industries use oxygen. It’s one of the most reactive elements, which makes it useful in processes from steelmaking to paper production as well as healthcare and waste treatment. This reactivity, (a willingness to form chemical bonds with other elements,) also creates sealing problems. Here’s an overview of the challenges posed by oxygen and a discussion of the best gasket materials to use.

The Air We Breathe

Oxygen is one of the most plentiful elements and makes up some 20% of the air we breathe. It’s also locked into the oceans as water. At temperatures above -297°F (183°C) it’s a gas. Oxygen has a strong affinity for electrons, which is what lets it bond readily with many other chemicals. Rust and oxidation are the common results, although fire and explosions are always possible.

Oxygen Production

Oxygen is produced by cryogenic distillation or pressure swing adsorption (PSA). As the name implies, the cryogenic process entails cooling air until it becomes liquid, allowing the oxygen to boil off. This produces a very high purity gas.

PSA involves pushing air through aluminosilicate minerals. These take up the nitrogen, leaving just oxygen, but at a lower purity than the cryogenic process.

Keeping Oxygen Systems Clean

Given that oxygen is highly reactive, it’s essential that any surface it touches is clean. Some industries have special requirements for oxygen-clean surfaces. The standards applicable to your industry will specify the type and degree of cleaning needed.

Materials for Gaskets in Contact with Oxygen

Liquid oxygen can only be sealed by materials capable of withstanding very low temperatures. PTFE gaskets are a good choice as is FFKM (perfluoroelastomers) gasket material.

Good gasket materials for gaseous oxygen include neoprene, EPDM, silicone, butyl and Viton® (a DuPont brand name for FKM.) Rubber materials such as SBR and natural rubber should be avoided because of their tendency to react with oxygen.

Ask an Expert

Always consider temperature, pressure and the environment along with the media being sealed. For this reason, it’s prudent to consult with a materials specialist before ordering gaskets or gasket material.

Weather Resistant Gasket Material Selection

Weather is hard on gasket material, thus identifying a weather resistant gasket material is important. Ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight attack bonds between carbon atoms in many rubbers. Ozone, (O3) often found in polluted industrial areas and around electrical enclosures, does the same. Temperature extremes, especially cold, affect material performance, as can moisture.

Open vs Closed-Cell Gasket Material

Open cells will absorb moisture. If temperatures drop to freezing the subsequent expansion could quickly destroy the material. Always choose closed cell material for a gasket that’s likely to get wet.

Materials to Avoid in Outdoor Applications

Inexpensive nitrile rubber/NBR, often selected for its good oil and solvent resistance, is not a good choice for weather resistant gasket material. The same goes for SBR. Nitrile gasket material is poor with both O3 and UV light, although water resistance is quite good. Its low-temperature limit is around -30F (-34C).

Better Weather Resistant Gasket Materials

Neoprene is a popular choice for gasket material but is not recommended for outdoor use. While it can handle a wide temperature range and offers moderate weather resistance, O3 resistance is poor.

Best Weather Resistant Gasket Materials

A little more expensive than Neoprene, EPDM is good for outdoor gasket applications not involving exposure to oils or solvents. EPDM provides a combination of good O3, UV, and general weather resistance.

Like EPDM, silicone gasket material resists attack by O3, UV, and general weather resistance, but also has excellent fungal and biological resistance. (Sometimes relevant in humid climates.) It has a wide temperature range but poor abrasion resistance is a limitation in applications with a significant joint movement or frequent opening. Silicone also suffers from high gas permeability and is not recommended for use with ketones, petroleum or chlorinated solvents.

For superior outdoor performance, fluorosilicone materials stand out. These have excellent resistance to O3, UV, and weather plus a very wide temperature range. They are also good with fuels. Their main limitations are poor abrasive performance and high price.

Gasket Material Selection Advice

Always consider the application environment when choosing weather resistant gasket material. Outdoor locations expose a gasket to UV light, weathering, and possibly O3. Extremely low temperatures can also be a problem. Hennig Gasket material specialists can provide further advice.

Gaskets for Low Temperature Applications

A common mistake when selecting gasket material is to consider only the upper temperature limit. Excessive temperatures can lead to gasket failure, but so too can low temperatures. The Challenger Space Shuttle disaster is perhaps the best known example of this.  Low temperature elastomers are worth looking at.

Gradual Transition

Metals are either solid or liquid with no fuzzy middle ground. Elastomeric materials like neoprene and SBR don’t have this clear melting/freezing point. They just become harder or softer. The dividing line is called the Glass Transition Temperature (Tg), but the difference in material behavior either side can be quite subtle. This makes it difficult for manufacturers of gasket materials to specify strict minimum temperatures. Instead, you’re more likely to see a range.

Elastomers and Low Temperatures

Low temperatures are a problem for elastomeric gasket materials, for two reasons:

  1. The lower the temperature the more the elastomer resists deformation under load. That’s bad because the material needs to squash into the faces being sealed.
  2. Low temperatures change compression set performance. A cold gasket material can take on a compression set and then leak as temperatures rise. (This is essentially what happened with the Challenger.)

Defining “Low”

In gasket terms, low temperatures are those which might be reached during winter in the upper Midwest. That means -20° to -40°F, which is far above the kind of cryogenic temperatures seen when processing and storing liquefied gases.

Gasket Material Selection

For very low temperatures, those down to -300°F, PTFE/Teflon gaskets are usually the material of choice. However, Teflon does tend to creep, making it unsuitable for some applications.

Silicone gaskets stay flexible at temperatures down to -80°F with some grades reaching -100°F. Nitrile rubber gaskets will typically work down to -80°F, although it’s important to check the material specs for details. Other elastomers harden before getting that cold, so always check material specifications.

Consider Both Temperature Extremes

Low temperatures can be as much of a problem for gasket materials as high temperatures. The loss of the Challenger serves as a reminder that gaskets may be exposed to temperatures below design limits.

Contact Hennig Gasket & Seals for your low temperature elastomer needs.

The Role of Gaskets in Minimizing Fugitive Emissions

Fugitive emissions are a serious matter for chemical plants and petrochemical facilities. First, the EPA is focused on reducing unplanned releases of VOC’s into the atmosphere, and second, it’s a cost-saving opportunity. Studies blame valves for the bulk of these emissions, but flanged joints and their associated gaskets play a part too.

Hunting Fugitives

Defined as “… unanticipated or spurious emissions from any part of the process plant,” in 2014 the Fluid Sealing Association estimated fugitive emissions amounted to some 300,000 tons annually. Furthermore, it’s thought a high proportion are hydrocarbon gasses like methane believed to be environmentally harmful.

Plants handling such chemicals are expected to implement Leak Detection And Repair (LDAR) protocols, preferably on a monthly basis. “Sniffing” technology is the method most commonly employed, although IR camera technology is increasingly available.

Prevention First

Should a LDAR survey reveal a leak the next step is usually to shutdown the affected equipment for valve repair or gasket replacement. Unplanned shutdowns are disruptive and expensive, making it essential to avoid such events. While leak-free performance can never be guaranteed, buying different types of quality gasket materials and following good sealing disciplines will reduce the likelihood of problems.

Three Principles to Follow

  • Select material appropriate to the media, pressure and temperature. Nitrile gasket material for instance is generally compatible with hydrocarbons like gasoline but should not be taken above 250°F. A neoprene gasket will perform better against ammonia, alcohols and mild acids while high temperature applications may need a fluorocarbon or PTFE gasket. In particularly arduous conditions a spiral wound gasket might be needed.
  • Analyze the joint to determine material thickness and hardness needed. The general rule for gasket materials is “as thin and soft as possible.” The goal is always to ensure the gasket compresses sufficiently to seal the gap when the joint is bolted up. High bolt loads risk deforming the flange, potentially causing leaks.
  • Follow good gasket replacement disciplines. Clean flanges thoroughly and verify mating surfaces are undamaged. Tighten bolts following the recommended sequence to avoid uneven compression and the risk of gasket extrusion.

Failure Mechanism at High Temperatures

Previous blog posts emphasized the importance of assessing the peak temperatures anticipated in a gasketed joint. Left unsaid has been why this matters. It’s probably obvious that polyurethane, nitrile and silicone gaskets all have a temperature at which they melt. More important, all will likely fail under prolonged exposure to temperatures near their melting point, due to a phenomenon called “creep.”.

Viscoelastic materials

Most gasket materials are viscoelastic. The “viscous” part means they have a propensity to flow slowly, like a thick gel and “elastic” refers to their ability to stretch and return to their original dimensions. However, elasticity has its limits. If the material is stretched too far it can’t return to its original size or shape, resulting in permanent “plastic deformation.”

Place a viscoelastic gasket material like polyurethane under load and it becomes thinner while simultaneously spreading outwards. This is “creep.” Releasing the load lets the material recover, but only to the extent that it has not been deformed plastically.

Creep relaxation

In a gasketed joint the material is compressed, either by the stretch of the flange bolts as they are tightened or by other retaining clamps. When first placed under load it starts to creep, but as the gasket thins the load lessens until the creep stops. This is termed creep relaxation. With good design this happens before the gasket reaches a point where the joint starts to leak.

Higher temperatures

Creep is related to temperature. When a polymer like polyurethane or styrene butadiene rubber gets warmer the molecular chains slide more readily. As a result it takes less force to produce a given movement. As the temperature approaches the melting point of the material, the force needed to produce a given movement falls quickly. To take one example, this means that at temperatures over 200 F (93 C) a nitrile gasket starts shows considerable creep.

Consider the material properties

Always select gasket material with the knowledge of the maximum temperatures expected. The more safety margin can be incorporated the less creep will be experienced, leading to a longer lasting gasket.

Why Thinner Gasket Material Usually Works Better

Gasket materials come in many thicknesses. To give one example, at Hennig Gasket neoprene gasket material is available from 3/32” all the way up to 2” thickness. Customers will sometimes ask what thickness they should buy, but a gasket material supplier really can’t help with that. It depends completely on the application. However, it’s generally agreed that a gasket should be as thin as possible, providing it still seals. There are four reasons. A thinner gasket:

1. Has greater blow-out resistance. Being thinner, the gasket present less area to the internal pressure, so is less prone to deformation and failure.

2. Has a lower leak rate. All gaskets will allow some quantity of fluid to pass through. This is just a natural function of their structure and the make-up of the fluid being constrained. (Anyone who’s ever tried piping helium knows how its small molecules let it escape from almost anywhere!) So the less gasket material that’s exposed to the fluid, the less will leak.

3. Retains fastener torque better. This stems from the creep relaxation characteristics of the gasket material. When there’s less thickness there’s less creep, (think of it happening on a percentage basis,) so more torque is retained.

4. Is less expensive. Material cost relates more to volume or weight than area, and thicker gaskets need more material. Secondly, thickness also influences cutting method and thicker materials could be more expensive to cut to shape. Neoprene gasket material 3/32” thick die cuts readily, but a thickness of 2” may call for a waterjet.

Note though that points 1 and 2 really only apply to situations where the gasket resists pressure, such as in pipelines. In no-pressure situations such as a gasket sealing around an electrical enclosure, the benefit is primarily Point 4 – cost.

All About the Gap

How thick a gasket should be depends entirely on the application. Remember that it’s purpose is to take up an uneven gap between two surfaces. The key is having enough thickness that the gasket compresses and fills the voids, but no more.

Selecting Gasket Material: Consider Temperature Carefully

All gasket materials have a temperature range they work over. Going outside of this range is a recipe for leakage, but buying one with a wider range than is necessary can be unnecessarily expensive. Why buy a silicone gasket when a nitrile gasket will do the job? The key lies in understanding the expected in-service temperatures.

Effects on the joint

Temperature, and especially temperature cycling, affects sealing in three ways:

  • Expansion/contraction of the joint and fasteners alters clamping loads and gaps.
  • High/low temperatures can result in material cracking of extruding out of the joint.
  • Cycling demands the material recovers to maintain the seal at all times.

The external thermal environment

Gaskets placed outdoors can experience large temperature swings, but ambient temperature is only part of the story. Piping running above a desert floor will absorb solar energy, getting well above 100F. Likewise, a brisk north wind in a Minnesota winter can produce effective temperatures far below zero.

Extreme temperatures are not uncommon indoors either. Foundries and frozen food distribution centers are both examples of where gaskets could see very high or very low temperatures, (although swings between the two are less likely.)

Media temperature

Knowing the mean temperature of the media being transported or sealed isn’t enough. Abnormal operating conditions could lead to unexpected peaks or dips, as can shut-downs and start-ups. Steam cleaning in particular can lead to higher than normal temperatures.

For enclosures it’s important to estimate the worst-case thermal load. Electrical equipment like drives and transformers produce significant heat and while a cabinet might have ventilation, consider the possibility of a blocked filter or failed fan.

Thermal gradients

Temperature differentials across a sealed joint can also challenge gasket materials, especially when that gradient changes. Piping cryogenically-cooled liquids through the desert, or hot gases in the arctic can make joints move and needs materials that recover quickly without taking a compression set.

Consider the worst-case

When selecting gasket material, know what temperatures to anticipate and choose accordingly. For information on gasket materials, contact a product specialist at Hennig Gasket.