Monday 15th February 2016

Development of the low-temperature testing programme

The recent work of the Elastomeric & Polymeric Seals Division has centred upon the development of a method of determining low temperature sealing capabilities.

The industry has, for decades, tried to infer sealing performance from low temperature testing of materials. A collaborative project has just completed, where a new method has been proposed and trialled amongst the group members, a paper has been prepared and is to be presented to the BHR Group in March. We are also seeking other events at which to present.

For those who (members only) wish to read more about the low temperature testing programme, you can read the paper in the Members Area of the website (under Elastomeric & Polymeric Seals Division).

John Kerwin

Paper abstract

The search for usable reserves of oil and gas is taking operators into more remote and arduous environments, many of which are in the coldest regions of the world or where temperatures fluctuate widely from high to low. This raises a challenge for elastomeric seal manufacturers as conventional elastomeric materials start to lose effectiveness as they become stiffer and lose resilience as the temperature drops. The members of the European Sealing Association’s Elastomeric and Polymeric Seals Division are rising to this challenge as they develop new compounds and seal designs to accommodate extreme low temperature operation.

These seals need to be tested to demonstrate their effectiveness at low temperature. There are numerous acceptable test methods to show the properties of the materials themselves at low temperature, such as torsion modulus, brittleness, compression set and temperature retraction. But these do not give a direct indication of whether a seal will continue to function. There are also proprietary functional test procedures which aim to identify the minimum operating temperature for seals; however all of these rely on the seal being energised by the pressure of the test fluid prior to being subjected to low temperature. This is not normally the case as in most real applications the seal will have been kept at low temperature prior to being exposed to the pressurising media and because it has already stiffened may not then be able to energise to maintain a seal.

This paper describes work to prepare and validate a suitable test method for this common but more severe condition. Having drafted the standard a validation programme has commenced in the form of round-robin tests conducted by the members on typical seals obtained from a single source. Each laboratory is testing seals and comparison of the results allows refinement of the specification.

This will result for the first time in an industry agreed specification that all reputable seal suppliers will be able to use to give end-users reliable guidance on the low temperature operating limits of their compounds.

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Development of the low-temperature testing programme

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