Gaskets, Packing, and Sealing Devices

SIC 3053

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing gaskets, gasketing materials, compression packings, mold packings, oil seals, and mechanical seals. It includes gaskets, packing, and sealing devices made of rubber leather, metal, asbestos, and plastics.

Industry Snapshot

A seal is a device used to control or eliminate leakage of liquids or gases while simultaneously preventing the entrance of contaminants from the external environment, such as dirt and dust. Seals are divided into two classifications: static or dynamic. Static seals are used on surfaces where there is no relative motion between the surfaces. An example of a static seal would be an engine cylinder-head gasket. Dynamic seals are used wherever relative motion exists between two surfaces, either intermittently or continuously. Examples are engine crankshaft seals and hydraulic cylinder-rod seals.

There are several basic types of seals. Cup-packings are mainly used as piston-head seals. Previously made from leather, elastomers are now used for low-pressure, small cups, while an elastomer/fabric blend is used for high-pressure applications. Cup-packings are particularly effective where clearance between surfaces to be sealed is excessive, such as sealing rough metal surfaces.

Gaskets typify the compression-sealing method. They are made from a wide variety of materials, often used in combination. For example, cork and elastomers are a popular combination in automotive use because cork's compressibility and rubber's resiliency combine to give excellent results in such uses as engine gaskets. Gaskets can be molded or cut from a sheet. They are installed between two surfaces, and pressure from bolting or clamping provides the sealing force.

Elastomeric gaskets are the most common type of nonmetallic gasket. They can be made of synthetic rubber or thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs), which are materials that have properties similar to rubber but are processed like plastics. Elastomeric gaskets are produced in a variety of sizes, colors, and finishes. They also can be produced to be especially resistant to such things as temperature, oil, chemicals, weathering, aging, and abrasion. With all these variations, as well as the variety of elastomers available, the applications differ tremendously. Simple applications would include such things as plumbing gaskets, while other, more sophisticated gaskets find advanced applications in aerospace products.

The simplest and most common sealing device, the O-ring, is used in numerous systems. O-rings can be used in static and dynamic applications, depending on the proper design. They are used primarily as components in automotive steering and brake systems, off-road heavy equipment, aircraft, and other industrial and household items.

Mechanical face seals are a multi-component sealing device used to create a leakage-free seal between a rotating shaft and a member through which the shaft passes. They are used in automotive water pumps and in the chemical process industries.

Molded packings and seals are mainly used in such things as fluid handling pumps, valves, cylinders, piston-type accumulators, and other equipment. They can be used as seals on the rod, ram, piston, plunger stem, or spool to develop and maintain hydraulic working power. They find their main applications in static sealing uses. Molded seals include squeeze-type ring seals and lip types. Squeeze seals are used in low-pressure applications, with lip seals finding more usage in high-pressure needs.

Radial lip seals are used in dynamic, low-pressure applications. Many are available in standard sizes, but the trend is to customize production.

U-packings are pressure-activated sealing devices commonly used in low to moderate dynamic sealing applications. They can be found in such things as pneumatically or hydraulically activated door openers.

Three or more seals are often used together in the low-speed, high-pressure dynamic applications common to V-packings. In one of this type of seal's many end-product uses, V-packings are found in the heavy-duty hydraulic cylinders of off-road earth-moving equipment.

Gaskets and seals are vital to the operation of many types of equipment. Three markets--transportation equipment, industrial equipment and machinery, and electrical equipment--account for more than 90 percent of total demand. Of this, sales to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) account for about 40 percent of revenue, and aftermarket sales account for an additional 60 percent.

Transportation equipment, including automobiles, is the largest OEM customer, accounting for 40 percent of total sales. The cyclical nature of the market resulting from such dependency on automobile sales has been offset by the relative stability of aftermarket demand for industry products.

In the mid-2000s, U.S. shipments in the seal and gasket industry were over $5 billion, according to government figures, nearly triple that of the mid-1980s. Compressed, nonmetallic gaskets, and gasketing held the greatest share, accounting for approximately 38 percent of total value of shipments, followed by molded packing and seals with 25 percent and metallic gaskets and machined seals with 16 percent. Smaller divisions of the industry, which together contribute the remaining 20 percent, include rotary oil seals and compression packaging.

Organization and Structure

This industry supports varied manufacturing and other industries, gaining its existence from the end use of its products rather than from the products themselves. Because of the industry's dependency on the health of the economy in general, the demand for gaskets, seals, and packings mirrors the cycles experienced by the makers of the durable goods that utilize such supplies.

Makers of gaskets and seals are also influenced by their customers in areas such as product development, production processes, marketing, and pricing. With the large number of suppliers available, end users can bargain for both better pricing and better service.

Other variables outside the control of U.S. gasket and seal manufacturers combine to affect the market. For example, since the early 1980s, the amount of gaskets and seals imported by the United States rose along with the variety of types of machinery in which such products were used. Varying levels of industrial production also affected the market.

Transportation equipment traditionally has been the leading market for gaskets and seals. Other markets include industrial equipment and machinery, electrical equipment, and photographic equipment, among others.

Two professional organizations are associated with the gasket and seal market: the Gasket Fabricators Association and the Fluid Sealing Association. The Gasket Fabricators Association consists of gasket cutters and industry suppliers who come together to discuss problems within the industry and to develop possible solutions. The organization, which meets twice a year and publishes a technical handbook and a quarterly newsletter, also develops industry standards. The Fluid Sealing Association is an international trade association founded in 1933. Its membership is heavily concentrated in North America but includes companies from other continents as well. According to its web site, the objective of the Fluid Sealing Association is to "serve as the point for worldwide efforts to improve the manufacturer's understanding and application of fluid sealing devices and to promote a safe, clean environment."

Background and Development

Historically, a number of different types of seals have been used in general applications: gaskets, U-packings, V-packings, cup-packings, and O-rings. Over time, the uses for seals have multiplied and improvements in materials and technology allowed seal manufacturers to offer a product with extended life and better performance.

The sealing industry encountered many challenges during the 1980s and 1990s as applications for sealing products became more complex. Aeronautical and oil field consumers were among the first to push for more demanding requirements. Elastomeric seal chemists and engineers were forced to advance technology from a "so-called art" to an "engineering science," according to Kerry C. Smith in Rubber & Plastics News.

Traditional materials, such as cork, rubber, paper, and felt, soon began to give way to specialty materials. For example, rubber gaskets used to be found in low-pressure and temperature uses. However, rubber is not always the material of choice for gaskets because contact with oil and grease negatively affects its performance in uses such as the automobile aftermarket. The success of rubber in this use is dependent on proper installation. Higher engine temperatures also negatively affect the selection of rubber for automobile gaskets. Specialty rubbers and TPEs more easily met the new, more demanding standards and allowed the number of possible gasket applications to grow.

The synthetic rubber category can be broken into three subcategories: commodity rubbers, medium performance rubbers, and specialty rubbers. The commodity types generally cost the least but offer less in the area of performance. In the past, these types generally took the largest percentage of elastomeric gasket usage. By the early 2000s the trend was toward the medium-performance and advanced rubbers. Among medium performance types, ethylene-propylene rubber, commonly known as EPDM, has found greater acceptance because it adapts to weather and resists abrasion better.

Specialty rubbers are usually available in low volume and give the best performance, but at a markedly higher cost. These advanced materials have seen wide applications in head gaskets, manifold gaskets, and oven-door and other appliance gaskets. A number of these elastomers offer higher heat resistance, along with high fuel and oil resistance. Silicone rubber, especially, is being used increasingly in aerospace applications.

Various TPEs are used for gasketing applications because they are resistant to oil and other engine fluids, are lightweight, and offer superior durability. However, TPEs have not achieved greater market share because their heat resistance has not been comparable to that of some of the specialty rubbers. TPEs are expected to continue to gain in non-critical uses and will grow into more critical areas after their heat resistance is improved.

About 80 percent of the elastomeric gaskets manufactured were made of various synthetic rubbers, with TPEs accounting for the remainder. Since the early 1980s, however, TPEs increased their share. By the early 2000s, seals and gaskets made from carbon and aramid fibers were projected to show the most growth in demand.

Examples of increasingly demanding design requirements and life requirements in automotive applications included the ability to seal the non-chlorinated refrigerants that began replacing the chlorofluorinated refrigerants (CFCs) that were historically used. Automakers looked for near-zero permeation but also expected seals to last up to 150,000 miles in engines operating at increasingly higher temperatures.

There was a substantial increase in the demand for gaskets and seals in the early 1990s, and that demand continued to increase into the early 2000s. After declining slightly from $5.41 billion to $5.37 billion between 1998 and 1999, shipments of gaskets and seals grew to a record $6.09 billion in 2000.

After peaking in 2000, the gasket and seal industry followed the general downward trend in the economy during the early 2000s, with total value of shipments falling off to $4.83 billion in 2003 before swinging upward in 2005 to $5.32 billion.

Faced with rapidly increasing fuel costs and stricter environmental regulations, automotive and power machinery producers and users looked for advanced technology from gaskets and seals to increase performance, extend wear, and lower operating costs. The U.S. Air Force developed gaskets during the mid-2000s that not only increased performance but also expanded the universal application of gaskets. Gasket applications traditionally come in a wide array of configurations and materials, according to such conditions as friction, mechanical design and material, and fluid and heat transfer. By developing applications with one-size-fits-all capacity, users can reduce costs by keeping lower inventories.

According to a 2005 report by the research firm Freedonia, total demand for gaskets and seals in the United States was projected to increase by 5 percent annually through 2008. Most gasket and seal types were expected to remain relatively stable in demand level, with flexible applications such as U-cups, V-rings, and U-rings slightly outpacing basic O-rings and elastometric gaskets. Demand for elastometric gaskets was expected reach $560 million by 2008, a 25.6 percent increase from 2003 and significantly better than the 4.9 percent increase seen between 1998 and 2003.

Current Conditions

According to industry statistics, there were an estimated 766 establishments engaged in manufacturing gaskets, gasketing materials, compression packings, mold packings, oil seals, and mechanical seals valued at $3.4 billion in 2008 with industry-wide employment of 34,038 workers. On average, each establishment employed 48 workers and generated $7.3 million in revenues. The majority of establishments were located in Texas, California, and North Carolina. North Carolina was the top producing state with shipments of $1.2 billion.

Producers of gaskets, packing and sealing devices, employed 10,333 workers and shipped products worth $858.5 million in 2008. Producers of gaskets and sealing devices employed 12,926 and shipped $1.9 billion in goods. Manufacturers of gaskets (all materials) employed 5,907 and shipped $490.3 million in products.

According to a 2008 U.S. gaskets and seals market report published in Business Wire, total demand for gaskets and seals in the United States was expected to increase 2.7 percent annually through 2012. Growth was expected to be driven by an improvement in automobile production, increased construction machinery shipments, and overall capital spending. Aerospace was predicted to post the largest gain as the ongoing war on terror fuels demand.

Freedonia, Inc. forecast continued growth in the elastometric gasket sector through 2013, when demand should reach approximately $670 million. About 80 percent of elastometric gaskets are made of rubber, but gaskets made with therormoplastic elastomers were expected to increase in demand at a slightly faster pace than rubber gaskets. Overall, elastometric gasket demand was expected to retain its approximate 28 percent share of the nonmetallic gasket industry, but newer materials, such as advanced fiber, graphite, and plastic, were expected to offer increasing competition for the gasket market.

Industry Leaders

Leading companies in the mid-2000s included Parker Seal Group, based in Irvine, California. Parker Seal is a division of Parker Hannifin Corporation, a global leader in motion and control technologies, with approximately $10.3 billion in revenues in 2009, 51,600 employees, and over 200 manufacturing plants. Garlock Sealing Technologies, a division of Charlotte-based EnPro Industries, manufactured seals for heavy-duty trucks. EnPro operated 29 manufacturing locations in 2006 and employed approximately 5,100 in 2008. The company reported revenues of $1.16 billion in 2008. Another industry leader, John Crane Inc. of Morton Grove, Illinois, is a subsidiary of London-based Smiths Group plc, which reported 2008 revenues of approximately $4.5 billion. Because these firms derive revenue from sales of other products besides seals, packing, and gaskets, it is difficult to pinpoint how much of their sales figures can be attributed directly to these products.


Industry employment in 2006 was about 34,809. Of this number, 24,026 were production workers earning an average of $15.85 per hour. The range of employment included factory workers producing the products, chemists and engineers developing the compounds and designs, and the sales force working with the OEM and aftermarket accounts.

Research and Technology

In response to increasing imports, many makers of gaskets and seals took a proactive stance by cutting manufacturing costs, going to advanced production concepts such as computer-aided design, and exploring after-uses that had the opportunity to provide greater-than-average growth. Examples of such applications are non-asbestos gasketing, or seals designed to reduce emissions in process industries. Industry participants also invested in improving product design. These actions helped the industry maintain steady growth since the early 1980s.

Despite their uses in highly complex applications, gasket and seal technology itself is more defined. Developments have come in the form of the new materials being used and demands from customers for longer-lasting materials. Capital costs are not immense, but investment is needed to keep up with these continuing shifts.

Extended wear and reliability were other advances in the industry. "Up to 70 percent of gasket cost is installing them," Mel Lowry, vice-president and general manager of Sealing Corporation, told Power Engineering in May 2005. "By using gaskets that create leak-proof flanges and will last for years, users will enjoy very substantial gains on maintenance cost as well as productivity while eliminating potentially hazardous emissions."

Technology is also sometimes governed by regulation. For health and safety reasons, the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions banned the use and supply of white chrysotile asbestos as of November 24, 1999. Use of the substance as a sealing material was allowed until January 2001 for saturated steam, superheated steam, and particularly hazardous substances. Seal manufacturers that once used this material have had to develop alternatives. In the mid-2000s Garlock Sealing Technologies remained in ongoing litigation over the previous use of asbestos in its products.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

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