Interface Solutions provides sealing, engineered composite materials, and technical services. Frank Fox began his career with the organization in 1964 when he joined Armstrong Industrial Specialties. His experience includes both engineering and managerial roles with the company's Building Products, Industry Products, and Worldwide Gasket and Specialty Papers business units. Fox served as president of Armstrong Industrial Specialties-which became Interface Solutions in 1999, an independent corporation.
Design engineers incorporating sealing and gaskets into vehicle powertrains now have more resources than ever to achieve improved seal performance at lower cost-while meeting tighter and tighter time-to-market pressure.
Design News: What are the major technology trends you are seeing in the international market for vehicle gaskets?
Fox: Traditional fiber material suppliers have developed new products using advanced packing theory, while rubber-on-metal suppliers are marketing new polymers with enhanced resistance to the more aggressive fluids used in today's vehicles. In addition, liquid sealant suppliers have introduced compounds that are finding use in dynamic joints. Typically, sealing mechanisms fit into one of two categories: adhesion or compression. One new technology we've developed, Select-a-Seal(R), employs a combination of controlled compression and adhesion to create a robust, multi-barrier seal.
Q: What's driving these trends?
A: The primary factors are durability and cost. Gasket design engineers have many options at their disposal to meet the different challenges presented by engines, transmissions, components, or pipe flanges. An automotive water pump, for example, has a different sealing dynamic than a bi-metallic front cover. It's the task of the design designer to fine-tune the technology to the specific application's performance and cost requirements.
Q: How can design engineers take advantage of new gasket materials and configurations?
A: Many OEMs are currently standardizing joint design based on traditional assumptions such as bolt spacing, surface finish, and flatness. However, recent innovations, such as Select-a-Seal and MicroPore technology, offer engineers greater design latitude and allow engineers to challenge conventional approaches.
Q: What technology breakthroughs do you foresee in the next five years?
A: With government mandates to achieve lower emissions and higher fuel economy, engine-sealing engineers are searching for solutions that can seal at low flange pressure, making possible lightweight designs with fewer bolts and lighter flanges. A sealing product must exhibit excellent resistance to permeability, but also must be light enough to accommodate a lightweight design. The key for engineers will be collaborative design and deploying the newest technology at the earliest possible point in the design process.
Q: How do you facilitate designing gaskets using teams of engineers in various locations to meet global and local requirements?
A: The key in meeting global and local requirements is getting involved early in the design stage. Our collaborative design effort involves application engineers who are specialists in various industries. Typically, customers provide us with CAD files of matching surfaces, and we then design Select-a-Seal gaskets to meet these requirements. Inter-face Solutions has a network of fabricators in major design centers around the world.
Q: What are the greatest challenges facing gasket design engineers and their customers today?
A: Customers are demanding gasket products with better performance at a lower total cost. Designers want leak-free performance and the quickest time-to-market possible. With the current economy, however, design engineers are finding they have less time and fewer resources to draw upon. That's why it's important for suppliers to be capable of delivering a complete solution, not just a product.
Q: What skills are most important for gasket design engineers to have today?
A: Today's design engineer needs traditional training and knowledge of the latest computer technology. Equally important, however, are simple curiosity and keeping an open mind, since no single technology delivers the best value for every application.