An O-ring, also known as a packing, or a toric joint, is a mechanical gasket in the shape of a torus; it is a loop of elastomer with a round cross-section, designed to be seated in a groove and compressed during assembly between two or more parts, creating a seal at the interface.
The O-ring may be used in static applications or in dynamic applications where there is relative motion between the parts and the O-ring. Dynamic examples include rotating pump shafts and hydraulic cylinder pistons.
O-rings are one of the most common seals used in machine design because they are inexpensive, easy to make, reliable, and have simple mounting requirements. They can seal tens of megapascals (thousands of psi) of pressure.
O-rings are available in various metric and inch standard sizes. Sizes are specified by the inside diameter and the cross section diameter (thickness).
Successful O-ring joint design requires a rigid mechanical mounting that applies a predictable deformation to the O-ring. This introduces a calculated mechanical stress at the O-ring contacting surfaces. As long as the pressure of the fluid being contained does not exceed the contact stress of the O-ring, leaking cannot occur. Fortunately, the pressure of the contained fluid transfers through the essentially incompressible O-ring material, and the contact stress rises with increasing pressure. For this reason, an O-ring can easily seal high pressure as long as it does not fail mechanically. The most common failure is extrusion through the mating parts.
The seal is designed to have a point contact between the O-ring and sealing faces. This allows a high local stress, able to contain high pressure, without exceeding the yield stress of the O-ring body. The flexible nature of O-ring materials accommodates imperfections in the mounting parts. But it is still important to maintain good surface finish of those mating parts, especially at low temperatures where the seal rubber reaches its glass transition temperature and becomes increasingly crystalline. Surface finish is also especially important in dynamic applications. A surface finish that is too rough will abrade the surface of the O-ring, and a surface that is too smooth will not allow the seal to be adequately lubricated by a fluid film.
O-ring selection is based on chemical compatibility, application temperature, sealing pressure, lubrication requirements, durometer, size and cost.
here are variations in cross-section design other than circular. These include the O-ring with an x-shaped profile, commonly called the X-ring, Q-ring, or by the trademarked name Quad Ring. When squeezed upon installation, they seal with 4 contact surfaces—2 small contact surfaces on the top and bottom. This contrasts with the standard O-ring’s comparatively larger single contact surfaces top and bottom. X-rings are most commonly used in reciprocating applications, where they provide reduced running and breakout friction and reduced risk of spiraling when compared to O-rings.
There are also rings with a square profile, commonly called square-cuts, lathe cuts, or Square rings. When O-rings were selling at a premium because of the novelty, lack of efficient manufacturing processes and high labor content, Square rings were introduced as an economical substitution for O-rings. The square ring is typically manufactured by molding an elastomer sleeve which is then lathe-cut. This style of seal is sometimes less expensive to manufacture with certain materials and molding technologies (compression molding, transfer molding, injection molding), especially in low volumes. The physical sealing performance of square rings in static applications is superior to that of O-rings, however in dynamic applications it is inferior to that of O-rings. Square rings are usually only used in dynamic applications as energizers in cap seal assemblies. Square rings can also be more difficult to install than O-rings.
Similar devices with a non-round cross-sections are called seals, packings or gaskets.
Automotive cylinder heads are typically sealed by flat gaskets faced with copper.
Knife edges pressed into copper gaskets are used for high vacuum.
Elastomers or soft metals that solidify in place are used as seals.