Platform Engineering for Gaskets Gaskets better, cheaper, quicker and you don't have to "pick one."

Once upon a time (but not long ago), the typical gasket was considered a low-tech, commodity item. It was the thin sliver of paper, cork or other basic material that was clamped between two mating surfaces to form a seal.

Now that warranty periods are getting longer, gasket-related recalls have sometimes become hideously expensive nightmares for automakers. And greasy spots of any kind on the driveway really irk today's expectational customers. Moreover, new-generation synthetic coolants and lubricants also tend to be unfriendly to traditional gasket materials.

These and other factors are forcing the lowly gasket to rise to new levels of sophistication.

Interface Solutions Inc. of Lancaster, PA, for instance, introduced earlier this year a new gasket-sealing technology called Select-a-Seal that is stirring interest among a number of OEMs and suppliers.

Although the company doesn't describe it this way, it essentially is taking the automotive platform-engineering approach and applying it to gaskets. The OEMs take high-volume chassis and floorpan architectures ("platforms") and then mix and match sheetmetal and component sets to create many different vehicles.

Interface Solutions has developed a new polymer-based technology that enables them to use a standard gasket "structural carrier" that basically functions like a vehicle platform: It can be customized for many different applications with various specifically-engineered polymers and edge geometries. Depending on the application, up to three different polymers can be applied to different apertures of a single gasket.

The concept uses different types of polymers bonded to the critical edges of the fiber-reinforced "structural carrier" to provide a three-part barrier against leaks. The polymer edges are formed into different profiles to serve various needs.

The standard edge, for instance, uses two types of polyacrylics and is suited for use with automotive and diesel engine lubricants, transmission and hydraulic fluids and axle lubricants.

Other types of polymers are used for coolant, water and low-temperature applications.

The approach also slashes tooling costs and product development lead times, says Dr. Shelly N. Garman, executive vice president.

From the time the computer-aided design files of the mating flanges are received at its prototyping facility, the company can design a gasket, cut sheets, apply the edge and test the prototype in a week, compared with the 8- to 12-week leadtime necessary to tool up injection-molded parts, the company says.

Typical production tooling also is much less expensive: $5,000 vs. $40,000 for a typical rubber-coated metal gasket and $100,000 for a rubber-edged metal gasket, the company says.

Tim Donahue, Interface Solutions' general manager for the automotive market, says that besides a number of major component suppliers, two of the former Big Three automakers have committed to in-house and fleet validation testing of Select-a-Seal for 2003, 2004 and 2005 models.