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Like Metals, Polymers Fail — but Differently

By Ana Benz |

This pictorial guide illustrates some of the common problems that can occur with polymeric and elastomeric materials that differ from those that occur with metallic seals and components Failures of polymer (plastic and elastomeric) parts and their consequences can be as significant as those of metallic equipment. The information presented introduces some characteristics of polymer parts that impact the equipment that is used at industrial sites. The information covers some aged O-rings, lined pipe, fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP), and pipelines with liners. Characteristics such as permeation, glass temperature, and viscoelasticity are discussed, along with examples of their consequences.   Background The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986, shocked the world. The explosion was due to the O-rings not being able to seal. The malfunctions described in this article introduce some characteristics of nonmetallic failures that impact equipment used at industrial sites. For each case, important polymer properties are discussed.   Elastomer O-ring failures Elastomers have glass transition temperatures, which are defined as “the temperature at which an amorphous material (such as glass or a polymer) changes…
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