Wear and corrosion of mechanical seals
Mechanical seals are used extensively to seal machinery such as pumps, mixers and agitators in the oil, petrochemical and chemical industries. The performance of such machinery is critically dependent on these devices. Seal failures may result in the escape of dangerous chemicals, possibly causing injury or loss of life. Seal performance is limited by the choice of face materials available. These range from cast iron and stellited stainless steel to cemented and silicon carbides. The main factors that affect seal performance are the wear and corrosion of seal faces. This research investigated the feasibility of applying surface coating/treatments to seal materials, in order to provide improved seal performance. Various surface coating/treatment methods were considered; these included electroless nickel plating, ion plating, plasma nitriding, thermal spraying and high temperature diffusion processes. The best wear resistance, as evaluated by the Pin-on-Disc wear test method, was conferred by the sprayed tungsten carbide/nickel/tungsten-chromium carbide deposit, produced by the high energy plasma spraying (Jet-Kote) process. In general, no correlation was found between hardness and wear resistance or surface finish and friction. This is due primarily to the complexity of the wear and frictional oxidation, plastic deformation, ploughing, fracture and delamination. Corrosion resistance was evaluated by Tafel extrapolation, linear polarisation and anodic potentiodynamic polarisation techniques. The best corrosion performance was exhibited by an electroless nickel/titanium nitride duplex coating due to the passivity of the titanium nitride layer in the acidified salt solution. The surface coating/treatments were ranked using a systematic method, which also considered other properties such as adhesion, internal stress and resistance to thermal cracking. The sealing behaviour of surface coated/treated seals was investigated on an industrial seal testing rig. The best sealing performances were exhibited by the Jet-Kote and electroless nickel silicon carbide composite coated seals. The failure of the electroless nickel and electroless nickel/titanium nitride duplex coated seals was due to inadequate adhesion of the deposits to the substrate. Abrasion of the seal faces was the principal wear mechanism. For operation in an environment similar to the experimental system employed (acidified salt solution) the Jet-Kote deposit appears to be the best compromise.