A labyrinth seal is a type of mechanical seal that acts like a channel for liquids, providing a complicated path for fluid to get caught in and prevent leakage. In this way, these seals provide non-contact sealing action by controlling the passage of fluid through an array of chambers by centrifugal motion, as well as by the formation of fluid vortices. Consequently, they can be utilized in a variety of operational settings, including on rotating assemblies where the movement can even make the seal more effective depending on the design. As a result of these capabilities, labyrinth seals have found use in an array of pipelines and other applications that involve fluid transfer.
In contrast with traditional seals that use a single lip to close an opening, the labyrinth seal has a combination of grooves which interlock with other grooves or teeth. In addition to creating a small pathway for fluid to flow, the greater amount of grooves distribute the external pressure more evenly. As such, seals are often used in heavy duty operations to keep substances such as grease and lubricant in, while keeping dirt, fluids, and other contaminants out. One major advantage to this type of seal is that when small amounts of leakage occurs across the seal, contaminants still cannot make it in from the outside. This can allow for greater pressure control, acting almost like a release valve that will not allow any external particles in. Another benefit of labyrinth seals is their friction-reducing design, making them suitable for moving devices like turbines. Due to their network of grooves, these seals can handle conditions which may cause other types of seals to break down.
While labyrinth seals can be made of a multitude of materials, they are often made from corrosion-resistant plastics which can give the seal a longer service life. Other labyrinth seals are made of rare or precious materials with unique features, such as the ability to withstand a wide temperature range. In addition, while most labyrinth seals are used to assist with liquid transfer, some are specially designed to work with gas turbines wherein the dry labyrinth seal uses spring-loaded rings with an inert gas between the faces of the rings to provide the seal. This creates even lower friction and offers a liquid-free seal.
Though labyrinth seals may be used in a large variety of pipelines and other systems, one of their most common uses is with pistons, which use them to store oil and seal against high pressure during compression and power strokes. Similarly, they are often used in other high-speed and high-temperature applications due to their greater resistance to pressure and other forces. One such application is in aircraft, where labyrinth seals are frequently used to provide an effective seal that prevents leakage in harsh working environments.
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