An o-ring is a circular-shaped mechanical gasket generally molded from an elastomer that sits in a groove between two or more assemblies to seal the connecting points. This joint may be fixed or, as in the case of a rotating pump shaft, movable, in which case lubrication is required to reduce wear. From the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, o-rings have served as one of the easiest and cost-effective means to seal interacting mechanical parts. They are also used as light duty mechanical drive belts. Though simple in design, an o-ring is a precise mechanical component that is highly critical for the safe and effective functioning of any machine, from the least to the most complex. And, unlike non-elastic flat seals and crush-type gaskets, o-rings can frequently be used, which further adds to their cost-effectiveness.
But for the Parker O-Ring division, the o-ring is no simple matter. A division within Parker Hannifin, a $10 billion global diversified manufacturer of motion control technologies and systems, since 1944 Parker O-Ring has excelled as a developer, manufacturer and worldwide supplier of precision-engineered o-rings that provide the vital underlying workings in a range of industrial and commercial uses.
Headquartered in Lexington, Ken., the Parker O-Ring division accounts for $110 million in annual sales and employs about 1,500. In addition to facilities at its home base, the division has a plant in Tennessee, where it performs 95 percent of its rubber mixing, with additional plants in Mexico and China, accounting for a total of about 400,000 square feet of manufacturing space. The plants are ISO 9001, TS 16949, and AS 9100 certified.
Products are sold through three channels, each of which accounts for roughly a third of total sales: a network of 110 independent distributors, direct sales and Parker Sales and Service Centers (PSCs). O-rings, installation lubricants and special molded parts (including anti-extrusion rings, co-ring assembly/removal tools) manufactured by the division are used in a variety of industrial and OEM applications, including automobile, chemical and biochemical engineering, refrigeration and air conditioning, mineral oil, aerospace, semiconductor and fluid power. Indeed, this range of market diversification distinguishes Parker as the high-end manufacturer capable of accommodating an industrial need for precision engineered o-rings.
“There are a number of niche providers that concentrate on one or two specific markets,” explains Vincent Sandoval, general manager. “And there are also some that focus on the low end of the market and produce high volume, inexpensive product made in China. We’re not interested in the very low end. We offer value-added services that satisfy customer needs across industry segments, and we’re the only o-ring manufacturer capable of formulating solutions for virtually any high-end application.”
Sandoval notes a number of reasons why Parker is “better across the board to fulfill any customer need. We do our own compound mixing, and we have a staff of experienced engineers with a track record of innovation that can design and develop materials to any specification. In designing an o-ring seal, it is always best to determine the best compound to use first, as this will have significant bearing on the overall design parameters. The primary determinant is usually the fluid that is going to be sealed, as well as the pressure that it must withstand.”
He continues, “Secondly, thanks to our three sales channels, we have a worldwide distribution network that keeps us close to our customers wherever they may be located in the world. And, we are committed to servicing our customers to minimize downtime and maximize quality. We recognize that responsive support is as equally important as our manufacturing excellence.”
One example of a key customer resource is the industry-heralded Parker O-Ring Handbook. Since its initial release in 1957, the Parker O-Ring Handbook has become a reference fixture to engineers worldwide, setting the standard for o-ring reference literature. This book contains extensive information, explaining the properties of basic sealing elastomers, as well as examples of typical o-ring applications, fundamentals of static and dynamic seal design and o-ring failure modes.
This is all part of the corporate commitment to what the company calls “Winovation™,” Sandoval says. “To be innovative, you need to foster an environment that challenges people to think, to create and to produce. The Winovation program is dedicated to developing, with the support of our customers and suppliers, products and systems for tomorrow that engineer success cost-effectively at the highest quality.”
Sandoval also points out, “We’re not just putting o-rings in a bag to fill orders. We’re developing solutions that set performance standards for critical components. We accomplish this both through off-the-shelf product and product that is customized to individual customer requirements. It also means providing customers with design engineering assistance, on-site material formulation and testing and fast prototyping. We’re the only provider that can do this for any customer, in any industry, which is why we are the market leader.”
Market diversification has also helped Parker O-Ring better weather the turbulent economy. “While it’s true that a downturn in one segment is frequently offset by an upturn in another, in terms of the current economy I can’t point to any specific segment that right now is outperforming another,” Sandoval says. “We did see pick up in automotive that we attribute to the cash for clunkers incentive; whether it will have any long-term effect remains to be seen. Overall, we see some improvement, but like most manufacturers, we’re nowhere near the highs we were experiencing a few years ago. However, as our customers begin to recover business, we have the capacity and logistics in place to meet their needs and exceed their expectations.”
Sandoval has reason to be confident that Parker will always provide the best fit for any application. “Our experience, history of innovation, breadth of product and commitment to customer service makes us unique in the marketplace. In the industry, we are a recognized leading brand, part of a global strategically diversified corporation with engineering expertise that partners with customers to improve productivity and profitability. It seems like a small thing, but, as engineers around the world well know, o-rings are hardly inconsequential; in fact, they are absolutely crucial to smooth and efficient operation of any mechanical application.”
And this is why Parker O-Ring engages in places and uses in which it is absolutely vital that the rubber needs to meet.