Floating ring annular seals represent one of the solutions for controlling leakage in high speed rotating machinery. They are generally made of a carbon ring mounted in a steel ring for preserving their integrity. Low leakage is ensured by the small clearance of the annular space between the carbon ring and the rotor. Under normal operating conditions, the ring must be able to “float” on the rotor in order to accommodate its vibration. Impacts between the carbon ring and the rotor may occur when the annular seal is locked up against the stator and the amplitude of rotor vibrations are larger than the radial clearance. This situation is prohibited because it rapidly leads to the destruction of the carbon ring.

The present work presents experimental results obtained for floating ring annular seals of 38 mm, tandem mounted in a buffer seal arrangement. The rotation speed was comprised between 50 Hz and 350 Hz and maximum pressure drop was 7 bar. For these operating conditions the floating ring follows the rotor vibrations without any impacts.

Comparisons were made with a theoretical model based on the equations of motion of the floating ring driven by mass inertia forces, hydrostatic forces in the (main) annular seal and by friction forces on its radial face (also named the “nose” of the seal). The friction coefficient on the nose of the floating ring was estimated from Greenwood and Williamson’s model for mixed lubrication. The present analysis validates the theoretical model used for predicting the dynamic response of the floating ring for a given rotor motion.

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