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Sealing & Polymer Manufacturers: A Timeline of Innovation

Your Source for Designing Critical Parts in Core Systems:

Most seals and polymer components are not visible to the human eye; however, these critical parts hold a “hidden” value that make THE difference in core systems, influencing all aspects of our daily lives. What places you ask? Our OmniSeal®, Rulon® and Meldin® products have been in some rather interesting and historical places that you may not have known about and our heritage does go way, way back—more than 350 years. 

In the Beginning, There Was Glass 

The story of Saint-Gobain and their Seals business becoming seals and polymer manufacturers includes a rich history. Saint-Gobain Group was founded in 1665 outside Paris with King Louis XIV signing the letters patent, leading to its creation. One of its initial notable projects included manufacturing 357 mirrors for the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles. This began the Group’s journey in manufacturing and search for innovative materials. 

The Power of PTFE & Teflon®: Creation of Rulon® Fluoropolymer 

Fast forward to 1939 when PTFE and Teflon® was accidentally discovered by chemist Roy J. Plunket as he came across a white, powdery residue from the refrigerant, Freon. This material would have the lowest coefficient of friction, be resistant to chemicals, able to withstand extreme temperatures, and be an important engineering element in numerous applications for Saint-Gobain Seals. 

In the late 1940s, Robert Rulon Miller was experimenting with Teflon® as a metal replacement for bearings in saddles, when he discovered a longer wearing, versatile option, which he called “Rulon.”  In the next decade, this polymer material was widely used in industrial applications and over time, spread its uses to other markets such as life sciences and automotive. 

A Sealing Solution Springs into Action: Birth of OmniSeal® Seal 

As the United States began to actively pursue fueled rocket engine programs from 1952 to 1955, the need for parts that could withstand extreme wear and temperatures became increasingly important. Existing options such as elastomers were susceptible to hardening in cryogenic temperatures and metals were brittle. Metal gaskets required a tremendous bolt load to affect a seal and could corrode from chemical exposure.  

OmniSeal® spring-energized seals emerged in the early 1950s as a good alternative with designs developed by three Southern California entrepreneurs. Bill Reid created the early-day OmniSeal® seal; Charles Tanner, the TEC Ring; and Roy Creath, the RACO® seal. 

Early successful uses of polymer spring-energized seals were in engine and tubing flanged joints in Titan Missile engines and the Atlas Missile. 

In the early 1970s, another type of seal emerged, the OmniSeal® rotary lip seal, which had a metal casing and was designed to bridge the gap between conventional elastomer lip seals and mechanical face seals.   

Use of OmniSeal® spring-energized seals would continue to expand. Developers in oil and gas began to look to them in the 1970s for their reliability, durability and ability to withstand aggressive media. 

The Might of Melamine: Discovery of Meldin® Thermoset and Thermoplastics 

In the late 1960s, a material called ‘melamine’ was introduced to the market for high temperature applications.  A thermoset plastic material, it was previously used in many factories and dinnerware production since the late 1940s. 

In the early to mid-1970s, Dixon Industries in Bristol, Rhode Island (now a Saint-Gobain Seals site), concentrated their efforts to develop a material that would compete with melamine. This led to Ted Rulon Miller creating “Melamine from Dixon,” which eventually became an early form of Meldin® thermoset polyimide (the Mel and Din was used to create this name). 

Three Product Lines Unite 

With their combined abilities to address chemical compatibility, high pressure, and low wear and friction, OmniSeal®, Rulon®, and Meldin® expanded into medical, dental and pharmaceutical industries in the 1980s. 

In 1986, OmniSeal® rotary lip seals were used in automotive superchargers, which use exhaust gas pressure to spin a turbine at high speed to pump fresh air into the engine and force extra air and gas into combustion chambers and get more horsepower out. They would later be used in turbochargers and other automotive applications. 

In 1990, with the acquisition of Norton Company, Saint-Gobain’s performance plastics division officially formed. In 1999, Saint-Gobain purchased Furon, a leading provider of OmniSeal® and Rulon® (the former having acquired Rulon Miller’s Dixon Lubricating Saddle Company in 1989), further paving its way in high-performance plastics. 

The Present Day & Future of Sealing and Polymer Components 

Since their invention, OmniSeal® seals have been widely used for extreme environments. They have been on every shuttle since the first human U.S. spaceflight—132 missions over 500 million miles—in 25 critical applications (main engine, life support and tanks with hypergolic fuels). The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum displays the Lunar Lander at certain times, which uses the RACO® seal on its windows. 

Today, our parent company employs over 170,000 team members in over 67 countries and is one of the world’s top 100 industrial corporations. Saint-Gobain Seals’ three product lines are used in a variety of industries: space launch vehicles and satellites, commercial and military aircraft, helicopter rotor heads, automotive powertrain and braking systems, oil and gas ball valves and turret swivels, life sciences analytical equipment and surgical tools, and industrial screw compressors, to name a few. 

Recent milestones include:

2012

  • OmniSeal® spring-energized seals and Rulon® bearings used in Atlas V and Mars Rover Curiosity.
  • OmniSeal® spring-energized seals on world’s first subsea gas compression station. 

2013

  • OmniSeal® spring-energized seals and Rulon® bearings used in high performance clinical chemical analyzer systems to test medical, forensics, pharmaceutical, agricultural samples.
  • OmniSeal® spring-energized seals and Meldin® bushings in fuel delivery in Falcon 9 and Atlas V launches.
  • OmniSeal® seals and Meldin® bearings used in launch of Delta IV heavy rocket.
  • OmniSeal® spring-energized seals used in world’s first battery-powered endoscopic stapler for medical sutures.
  • Custom injection molded components used in electrical vehicle Renault ZOE’s brake system. 

2014

  • OmniSeal® spring-energized seals approved as static seal in rocket engine check valves to allow flow of pressurized liquid or gas in one direction.
  • OmniSeal® spring-energized seals qualified for helicopter rotor head applications.
  • OmniSeal® spring-energized seals for single stem sealing on quarter-turn valves to lower fugitive emissions with ON/OFF valves in oil and gas.
  • OmniSeal® spring-energized seals for oil and gas that meets ISO 15848-1 standards for leakage tightness and endurance.
  • OmniSeal® spring-energized seals announced for medical miniature motor market for surgical tools. 

2015-Present

  • Rulon® cup seals improve reliability of portable oxygen concentrators for patients.
  • Meldin® gerotors used in oil and scavaging pumps on Formula 1 racing vehicles.
  • OmniSeal® six-foot-wide, cryogenic seal manufactured for NASA Space Launch System.
  • OmniSeal® spring-energized seals used in DyeCoo waterless textile dyeing, reducing water and chemicals.
  • Meldin® 7001 components are qualified for electric harness in major jet engine program.
  • OmniSeal® polymer seals for seat-to-body sealing of cryogenic trunnion mounted ball valves that exceed LNG industry leakage rate standards.
  • OmniSeal® RACO® spring-energized seals celebrating 60th anniversary.

We have spent decades designing and manufacturing sealing and polymer solutions to address the most difficult challenges in all aspects of our lives. We can’t wait to see what the next 50 years hold for these critical parts. Contact us if you want to learn more about any of these “places in time.”

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