Seals and spacers are common components used in a wide variety of applications and industries, especially in the aerospace sector. With hundreds of mechanical devices in close proximity within a given aerostructure, these devices help prevent the wear and risk of failure associated with friction. Although seals and spacers can be composed of any stable material, rubber has quickly become a popular choice in general aviation and spacecraft. In this blog, we will explore the rationale behind the switch to rubber elements to support demanding applications.
Before we discuss the benefits of rubber in the aerospace realm, it is first necessary to define the term and discuss its different forms. Rubber comprises any material derived from certain tropical plants, petroleum, and natural gas. For most manufacturing purposes, rubber derivatives like neoprene, EPDM, and silicon are used in a majority of products. Neoprene is the oldest synthetic rubber and displays favorable fluid and heat resistance. Meanwhile, ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM) provides superior performance even in the context of ozone and low gas permeability. Lastly, silicone has an unmatched operating temperature, allowing it to be the most flexible material for engine operations.
Compared to metal, metalloids, or synthetic materials, rubber can tolerate a wide range of environmental stressors and temperatures. It also requires low maintenance and lubrication, helping save operators time and money. Rubber is also compressible to a certain extent, making it the perfect choice for applications requiring gaskets, such as landing gears and wing flaps. Additionally, seals can be used to dampen vibration at vulnerable locations across the aircraft which can aid in passenger comfort by decreasing low-pitched sounds.
Another domain where rubber outshines other materials is ventilation. Since rubber provides a water and air-tight seal, it often lines the borders of aircraft doors and windows. This allows for stable cabin pressurization and safe oxygen levels. Silicone and other heat-stable materials are preferred for engine applications since they boast a longer lifespan and are naturally corrosion-resistant. Finally, rubber seals and spacers are commonplace in electronic protection due to their fire-retardant nature. Typical locations for sensitive components include the instrument panel, navigation systems, and other vital cockpit constituents.
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