How to choose the right piston ring for your application

February 2, 2022 Lars Butenschön

When it comes to choosing the right piston ring, the devil is in the details. Slot design, fixing groove depth and width, and material all play an important role in the performance and lifetime of the component. In this blog post, we'll fill you in on what you should consider when selecting the right piston ring for your application.

Mechanical requirements for piston rings: pressure, speed and lubrication

The most important factor in the selection of pistons rings is the pressure (force per area), which acts on the rings in the application. But frequency and speed of movement also play a major role. The type of lubrication and the coefficient of friction should be taken into account too. But why are these values so important?

Piston rings that are exposed to high pressure should be made of the most resistant material possible. Self-lubricating fiber-reinforced plastics or steels are commonly used here; however, they have the disadvantage of being heavier and requiring constant lubrication.

Speed of movement also plays a role. Depending on the material used, if the product of speed and pressure is too great, the resulting frictional heat cannot be sufficiently dissipated without additional lubrication.

The type of lubrication depends on application requirements and the technical characteristics of the piston rings in question. Piston rings made of plastic or plastic fabric are often self-lubricating. Solid lubricants such as PTFE or molybdenum sulphide (MoS2) minimize coefficients of friction and protect the piston rod or cylinder from wear.

Piston ring shape and dimensions

Piston rings can be mounted in two ways. They can either be fitted on shafts or rods or installed as guides in cylinders. This is why guide rings are slotted -- to provide the necessary clamping force and flexibility.

Piston rings also serve as a sealing function or are designed to let lubricating or hydraulic oil through (depending on the shape of the slot). There are also angled and straight slots or form-fitting variants with a Z or tooth profile. Piston rings made of plastic offer the advantage of less complex shaping since plastics can be processed and machined relatively easily and cost-effectively.

Material variety for piston rings

The world of plastics has an especially wide range of materials. Not all of them are suitable for piston rings though. Additives are also required to specifically optimize the material properties for use in piston rings. In addition to improved properties such as elasticity, coefficients of friction, and mechanical stability, the materials differ primarily in their temperature resistance, thermal expansion, and chemical resistance.

The properties mentioned above, mechanical strength and elasticity, maximum PV values, and thermal properties can be compared especially well by means of data sheets. But what do they say about component durability and service life? Here the comparison is often difficult. Design programs and formulas, like our plastic bearing service life calculator, can help here. 

For assistance choosing the right high-performance plastic piston ring for your application, contact us here or call us at (800) 521-2747. You can also learn more about our maintenance-free iglide bearing materials here

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