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Digital design and development

How virtual seals provide deep operational insights

Developing sealing solutions that can contend with the most challenging operating conditions often requires lengthy trial and error of various aspects. After all, every detail of a seal should be designed to support top performance and the acceptable service life based on the application. Engineers have to then predict how seal material and the overall design will react when in motion: if misalignment or run-out will occur, as well as to reveal if the seal can cope with such application conditions. This will also help determine how friction, pressure, and temperature will affect the seal given the chosen lubricant etc.

Making virtual seals a reality

When SKF is approached by a customer, the traditional selection process would involve them choosing the most appropriate seal from our product catalog. In certain instances, one-off, machined seals will be tailored. The ultimate aim for the customer is to obtain the perfect seal for their application: one which will stand the test of time and one that doesn’t break the bank. They want a quick-to-market solution.

In a webinar for #SKFstronger, Mickael Sansalone, Manager Global Research and Innovation for SKF Seals, discussed how this process has been given a recent boost. Using digital twin and advanced simulation technology, engineers at SKF are now able to identify suitable seal design and material combinations to fulfill customer requirements, as well as to select an appropriate manufacturing technique – maximizing performance-to-cost ratios. But how does it work?

Dr. Mickael Sansalone, Global Research & Innovation Manager - SKF Seals, discusses how digital twin technologies can reduce time-to-market and TCO for customers

Based on our understanding of, the complex tribological aspects of the lubricated sealing contact and the modelling of viscoelastic material in application, SKF has developed a customizable virtual seal. Available in 2D or 3D, this virtual platform allows our engineers to see how small changes might affect seal performance. Time, temperature, pressure, and speed can all be applied to replicate true application conditions. Ultimately, fewer feedback loops between real and virtual seal development phases are now required, leading to an accelerated design and optimization phase towards the final solution – with increased reliability and cost efficiency.

Virtual production in practice

Additionally, the production process can be simulated and improved as well, both in terms of compression and – in the case of this customer – injection molding.

A customer came to SKF with a request for a pivot seal suitable for a motorbike’s rear suspension. Traditional manufacturing processes were not suitable, as two injection points were required to connect to a single press injector. Additionally, smaller inner injection channels had to go through the seal metal insert to allow for inner-lip molding, which could have led to excessive filling pressure and mold filling issues.

Our process simulation platform revealed how the cavity could be filled using the right set of parameters. The part was successfully manufactured, and prototypes could be delivered to the customer in time for field evaluation.

Bridging the physical and digital worlds

In the future, we plan to continue working on connecting virtual seal and virtual production platforms to optimize parameters and conditions for real seal products and complete bearing arrangements. Ultimately, this will lead to the right sealing choices for our customers, while shortening lead times and offering improved, longer-lasting solutions at a lower cost. However, although we are well underway, proper interaction between virtual seals and physical products still require the presence of dedicated database, suitable connecting cloud platforms and proper API to minimize the need for human intervention.