PTFE is an excellent material for seals: it has extremely low friction, can operate in extreme temperatures, is dimensionally stable, available in FDA approved grades, and is compatible with a wide range of chemicals. When it comes to seals for rotating shafts, PTFE is often used with both standard rotary shaft seals as well as spring-energized seals — but aren’t they the same? The short answer is no, they are not.
Dynamic seals, including those used in connection with rotating shafts, face far more challenges that static seals. If the shaft is misaligned, it is possible for the seal lip to lose contact with the shaft surface during rotating, compromising the integrity of the seal. Shaft surfaces must be extremely smooth when rotation is taking place to minimize the wear on the seal lip and to make the seal more effective — and this is especially true when high speeds are involved.
PTFE Rotary Shaft Seals
Rotary shaft seals are designed to provide a seal (and in some cases a wiping functionality) for circular shafts that are rotating or swiveling. Their job is to keep lubricants (either for the bearing or for the shaft itself) from leaking out while preventing the ingression of contaminants, which is why they are often called oil seals or grease seals. There are many different designs that are well adapted for specific sealing applications, such as mechanical pump seals, cryogenic temperatures, and harsh environments.
When designed and specified correctly, PTFE rotary shaft seals can provide excellent performance at relatively high speeds as long as the pressures are low (there are high speed shaft seals that can handle higher speed levels, but again the pressure must remain low). In addition, the shaft must meet strict tolerances for surface finish and must be straight and correctly aligned. They are a cost effective sealing solution for many designs
PTFE Spring-Energized Seals
PTFE spring-energized seals serve the same purpose as rotary shaft seals and can achieve all that rotary shaft seals can, with a few additions made possible by the spring energizer. For example, the presence of a spring-energizer enables the sealing lip to remain in contact with the surface of the shaft even when there is a significant pressure difference or the shaft is eccentric. The springer energizer also maintains seal integrity when there are significant changes in temperature that can affect the dimensions of the shaft size or the PTFE seal lip. The drawback for this enhanced performance, however, lies in the price: PTFE spring-energized seals are going to be more expensive than PTFE rotary shaft seals.
PTFE is an excellent material choice for many dynamic sealing applications, including those that involve high speeds, dry running capabilities, FDA approved materials, extremely high temperatures, or cryogenic temperatures. There are some dynamic applications where a PTFE rotary shaft seal simply cannot provide the necessary performance, and in those instances then a PTFE spring-energized seal should be considered.