Seal life

How to get good mechanical seal life

Seals that came installed as original equipment in the pump should last until the sacrificial carbon face has worn away. This is the definition of a worn out seal. If a seal leaks before the carbon face has worn down, we call it a failed seal. In practice we find that seals seldom wear out, most of them fail and as a result we spend a good deal of time and money looking for better designs. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were such a thing as the ideal mechanical seal? Some customers have spent years looking for this magic seal and their failure rate in seals still exceeds 85%.

Getting a good seal installation is similar to getting a good paint job on an automobile. It’s more involved than just the purchase of a good brand of paint. To get a good paint job on your automobile you need to solve four problems:

  • The body must be prepared properly.
  • You must have good quality paint.
  • The paint must be applied correctly.
  • You have to take care of the paint once it’s been applied.

If you have addressed these four separate problems you can get a paint job that’ll last many years. Neglect some of these steps and the life of the paint will diminish accordingly.

Seal application follows four steps also, and if you neglect any of the steps your seal life will be shortened. Here are the four steps you must follow :

  • Make sure the pump is ready to receive a mechanical seal.
  • Select a good seal, manufactured from good materials.
  • Install the seal correctly.
  • Install the proper environmental controls to insure long life.

In the following paragraphs we’ll investigate each of these steps. This brief discussion should encourage you to investigate the subject of seal life in more detail.

Prepare the body

If we were painting an automobile, we would have to first wash the car with a good detergent and then clean the old paint with solvent to remove any silicone wax that could damage the new paint job. We would then do our body work and sand the paint smooth. Priming and more sanding would come next and finally we would wipe the body down with a “tack” cloth to remove any dust that might cling because of static electricity.

This procedure could take many hours or even days, but it’s the necessary first step because, without it, the paint wouldnt look as nice as we want.

To prepare the pump for a mechanical seal we want to do a number of things:

  • Reduce shaft vibration and displacement. The more the shaft moves the more likely the seal faces are to open and allow destructive solids to enter between the lapped faces.
  • Either operate close to the pump B.E.P. or use a shaft with a low L3/D4. Avoid sleeved shafts. The shaft was weakened to install the sleeve. If you use a corrosion resistant shaft with a non-fretting, balanced o-ring mechanical seal, there’s no need for a shaft sleeve.
  • Either align the pump/driver properly, or install a “C’ or “D” frame adapter and don’t worry about misalignment.
  • Check for excessive pipe strain. A “centerline” wet end conversion can solve the problem if temperature growth is the cause.
  • Make sure the shaft is not bent. Most people have no luck in trying to straighten a bent or warped shaft.
  • Check that the rotating parts have been dynamically balanced.
  • Make sure the bearings are in good shape.
  • Check for vibration. There are many sources.
    • Different types of cavitation.
    • Base plates with too small a mass.
    • Piping arrangements.
    • Harmonic vibration caused by nearby hardware
    • Seal “slip stick”
    • Non laminar flow through the pipes.
    • Water hammer.
    • Etc.
  • Either bore out the packing chamber or install a large seal chamber to give the seal room to move, and utilize centrifugal force to throw solids away from the lapped faces. A one inch (25 mm) radial clearance around the outside diameter of the seal is both desirable and practical to obtain.
  • In most cases install a line from the bottom of the stuffing box back to the suction of the pump. Don’t do this if:
    • You’re pumping a fluid close to its vapor point.
    • Flowserve pumps.
    • Double ended designs
    • If the specific fravity of the solids is less than the specific gravity of the liquid. (The solids float)
  • Be sure the shaft is of the correct tolerance and finish in the location of where the elastomer seals to the shaft.
  • Be sure to vent the stuffing box back to the pump suction any time you have a mechanical seal in a vertical pump installation. If you fail to provide this vent, the seal chamber will become full of air, causing overheating in the seal area.

Use good quality paint and store it properly.

The final result will be directly related to the quality of the paint you put on the car. We need a paint that has a high percentage of solids, with good corrosion resistance and the ability to maintain a high gloss over a long period of time.

A good seal will incorporate the following features when ever possible:

  • Both dynamic and hydraulic balance.
  • Non-clogging features
    • Springs positioned out of the sealing fluid, to prevent clogging.
    • The elastomer moves to a clean surface and away from any solids as the seal face wears.
    • The pumping fluid should be at the outside diameter of the rotating component to take advantage of centrifugal force.
  • “Two way” hydraulic balance must be used in multiple seal designs. This feature is necessary to prevent the seal faces from opening with fluctuating system and barrier fluid pressures
  • Vibration damping must be provided to prevent damage to the lapped faces and to stop them s from separating. O-Rings are a natural vibration damper. Bellows seals must have one installed.
  • Excessive motion capability must be provided when a seal is used in sleeved bearing equipment and long shaft designs such as those found on mixers and agitators. To decrease your inventory, slotted glands should be used to adapt the seal to the widest range of pump brands.
  • Universal seal materials should be specified for the widest range of applications and minimum customer inventory.
  • Failure protection, in the form of either an A.P.I. type gland or a back up seal, should be part of every seal application.
  • The thinnest, shortest design that will satisfy the sealing requirements, should be part of any good seal design.
  • Proper packaging and storage will insure that the seal is in good shape at the time of installation.
    • The seal should be boxed in a reusable container.
    • It should be insulated to survive a one meter drop with out damage to the lapped seal faces.
    • Protective material must be placed on the lapped faces in non cartridge designs.
    • Proper labeling is required to prevent unnecessary box opening.

The paint must be put on correctly.

To do this you would have to mask the parts carefully, control the temperature and dust, do not apply the layers too thick and sand between applications.

There are several problems associated with good seal installation:

  • You must not damage the lapped faces or cut the elastomer.
  • Be sure to compress the seal to the proper face load. Check the print that came with the seal for this critical dimension.
  • Be sure the shaft diameter is of the proper tolerance and finish, and the dynamic elastomer will seal properly.
  • With open impeller pumps you’ll have to make the initial impeller adjustment and additional adjustments for impeller or volute wear and thermal growth. Remember that these adjustments will also affect the mechanical seal compression. Cartridge seals and split seals are the only sensible method of getting correct face compression. These designs should be the standard in any modern plant.

Taking care of the paint means frequent washing and waxing.

It also means that you should not park the car in places where opening doors can chip and damage the paint on your vehicle. Following too close to trucks can cause rocks to be thrown into the grill and body. If the car is not garaged, the heat of summer and the cold of winter can shorten the life of any paint job.

We take care of a mechanical seal by providing environmental controls that’ll allow the pumping fluid to stay at the correct temperature and pressure to prevent it from changing to a solid, vapor or crystal that could damage the mechanical seal. These environmental controls are especially important with intermittent service pumps because the constant starting and stopping is always harmful to a mechanical seal.

How long can a good paint job last on an automobile?. The answer would have to be many years if you did the four things mentioned in the above paragraphs. Obviously most people do not take the proper care with their investment, and the cars you see on the street are the result.

All companies would like to get better seal life and the method of doing it’s not complicated. Take a look at most of the seals you have removed from your pumps and notice that in 85 % or more of the cases, there is very little carbon wear. It’s reasonable to expect that with proper attention you should be able to wear out 85% of your seals and experience only a 15% failure rate.

The seal life you get will be directly related to your interest in addressing these four subjects.



  • On February 17, 2018