Face seals operate by allowing a small volume of the sealed fluid to escape and form a thin film between the contacting parts. The thickness of this film must be optimized to ensure that the faces are separated, yet the leakage is minimized. In this work the liquid film is measured using a novel ultrasonic approach with a view to developing a condition monitoring tool. The trials were performed in two stages. Initially tests were based on a lab simulation, where it was possible to compare the ultrasonic film thickness measurements with optical interference methods and capacitance methods. A direct correlation was seen between ultrasonic measurements and capacitance. Where ultrasonic and optical methods overlap, good correlation is observed; however, the optical method will not record film thickness above 0.72 m. A second set of trials was carried out, where the film thickness was monitored inside a seal test apparatus. Film thickness was successfully recorded as speed and load were varied. The results showed that while stationary the film thickness varied noticeably with load. When rotating, however, the oil film remained relatively stable around 2 m. During the normal operation of the seal, both sudden speed and load changes were applied in order to initiate a seal failure. During these events, the measured film thickness was seen to drop dramatically down to 0.2 m. This demonstrated the ability of the technique to predict failure in a face seal and therefore its aptitude for condition monitoring
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