Rubber Seals the F1 performance delivery process
In this modern era of exciting, space age materials, it is easy to overlook some of the more traditional solutions that have been developed over the years, and yet it is surprising just how relevant such products remain, with “rubber” being a case in point.
The history behind the rubber seal
With origins stretching back (no pun intended) thousands of years, natural rubber played a key part in enabling the new technologies of the Industrial Revolution to work, being a material with unique properties such as flexibility, resilience and wear resistance. The invention of the Vulcanisation process enabled the manufacture of reliable seals and gaskets that found a multitude of applications in machinery & industrial equipment, and the ongoing development of “synthetic rubber” polymer types has vastly increased the range of performance of this family of materials.
While rubber seals are commonplace in humble applications such as domestic water supply systems, road going vehicles, and commercial equipment, what is often less obvious is that cutting edge technologies likewise often rely on a rubber element to fulfil the design requirements. Inconspicuous rubber seals and gaskets in petrochemical, aerospace or energy process applications are often the unsung components that add the required performance and reliability to equipment, and as such, are the result of careful material specification, product design, and manufacture.
How does a rubber seal help an F1 car
An extreme example of how a product such as a current generation F1 car does in fact rely on rubber to delivery its full performance shows how these inconspicuous parts are in fact essential to the process, in this case – winning races. Despite having access to the very latest material and manufacturing technologies, and indeed developing new ones, in motorsport rubber remains the material of choice for many applications where environments are often extreme. In F1 in particular this can mean selecting polymer types that can cope with high temperatures, control vibrations, seal complex surfaces which may be moving dynamically, or which require low stiction / friction properties. The specific product and material design requirements for each application of course need to be assessed to ensure that the solution employs the right kind of rubber and hardness, since as yet, science has not delivered that single “magic” rubber that does everything simultaneously.
It is surprising how often it is the “rubber” component that proves to be the key element to unlock the functionality or reliability of a design, and this has been demonstrated very visibly with the latest generation of F1 Power Units, which despite huge investment in R&D, still proved to be a huge challenge to introduce for the 2014 season. Constant development of the units, including the critical thermoset rubber seals and gaskets, delivered impressive levels of power output and reliability, and the latest generation of 2015 units have to meet even more stringent reliability targets. Rubber remains the material of choice on both the Power Unit and the Chassis components of a 2015 F1 car for key applications, as this recent article explains on further detail article.
Rubber is a key element for F1
Rubber therefore remains a key element of the functionality of a current F1 car, quite apart from the astonishing tyre technology that has transformed the capability of road going tyres in recent years, and the materials that make these levels of performance possible are ever more relevant to effective commercial process control as well as the high end Aerospace, Defence, Energy and general Manufacturing sectors. So it is certainly the case that “rubber” remains a key element in solving process sealing problems, whether the application is in a mundane domestic water supply, or a high end process such as down-hole oil extraction where extreme environments are the norm.
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