3 Reasons Rubber Products Fail

windmills on coastlineProper rubber testing is crucial to avoid catastrophic gasket failure or seal failure during the operation of heavy-duty manufacturing and industrial applications. Rubber components are, in general, known for their durability, elasticity, strength, and reliability. Today, the vast majority of rubber products are made of elastomeric polymers, synthetic compounds that hold similar properties as natural rubber, along with additional properties for specific applications. Think neoprene, butyl rubbers, Buna rubbers, silicone, and so forth.

Whether natural or synthetic rubber, when subjected to certain conditions, the rubber material is still susceptible to fatigue and failure. However, suppose it is premature or unanticipated. In that case, it can impair plant machinery’s efficiency, damage equipment or engines, slow or halt production, cause injuries, or even lead to catastrophic failure of vital manufacturing applications.

A variety of factors can influence fatigue and failure of rubber components. Overall, three of the leading causes are the component’s operating environment, age and temperature, and mechanical failure. With prior testing and proper analysis of the material, rubber fatigue and failure can be avoided. Let’s take a closer look:

Operating Environment

Their operating environment greatly impacts the performance of rubber products. Not all rubber mechanical properties are alike. The composition of rubber materials vary relating to their function. Some are designed for contact with corrosive substances, fluids, or chemicals, while others are designed for oils and lubricants. The strength of some types of rubbers wears down prematurely when used in electrical applications, while the wrong component material in oxygen-related applications can lead to fatigue cracks and brittleness.

Seals and gaskets used in applications incompatible with a material’s mechanical properties will lead to fatigue and failure. Proper analysis of material composition and fatigue testing in the product’s intended operating environment ensures that rubber products consist of the right compounds that hold properties compatible with that application environment. Prior use testing accurately demonstrates how a rubber component will perform under specific conditions for a given application.

Age and Temperature

Longevity and resiliency, along with temperature resistance, are much sought-after properties commonly associated with rubber product applications. Seals and gaskets are expected to last a long time and operate in extreme temperatures without failure. It’s a sure thing that the longer a component is used in an application, the less effective it becomes. Yet, there’s little doubt that, without the proper material, rubber components subjected to extreme temperature environments can cause the materials to expand and contract, and alter and shift dimensions in a short time, and lead to fatigue, premature wear, and become ineffective. In truth, many rubber compounds are designed to function within certain temperature ranges. Knowing a product’s temperature range is vital for its application requirements and longevity. When designing a seal for extreme temperature applications, prior testing of material can ensure the application functions as long as it’s designed to. Without prior testing, seal or gasket failure in extreme temperatures can have catastrophic consequences, costly, if not life-threatening.

Mechanical Failure

Though all seals eventually wear out over time, prior testing of rubber material allows operators to regularly schedule maintenance at set intervals to prevent damage to machines, engines, and equipment. Problems arise when the premature mechanical failure of a seal happens. Friction, heat, and improper installation can contribute to premature failure of a seal or gasket. However, brittle fracture and ductile fracture are often the leading culprits of mechanical failure in seals. Without the necessary ductility for an application, the material will crack with permanent deformation co-occurring under above-average strain. Brittle fractures are small, crack-like defects that occur under low strain when the material is subjected to smaller stresses than the yield limit of the material. Unlike a ductile fracture, a brittle fracture has little or no signs of deformation of the material. Either type of failure can be avoided with prior testing of the material before its application.

Seals and gaskets must be able to operate over a wide range of conditions, temperatures, and environments. Reliable sealing results from the proper design and selection of materials for the intended application. To obtain optimum operating results, prior analysis of the material combined with fatigue testing before use will ensure the component’s longevity and integrity.

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