API flanges maintain integrity through metal-to-metal seal between gasket and flange groove, where sealability depends on contact stresses through bolt makeup-load, tension, fluid-pressure, bending moment. Approaches like API-6AF2 have limitations. With increased deep-water operations, there is an urgent need to understand true sealability/leakage. This requires micro-scale examination of seal. Very few FEA in literature model surface conditions. The objective here has been to develop an analytical model to estimate contact stresses and leakage considering surface topography.
This work presents a novel approach for modelling sealability/leakage in metal-to-metal surfaces. It utilizes a contact-mechanics and a fluid-flow model. Deterministic multi-asperity contact-mechanics model provides quantitative estimation of gasket contact stresses, contact gap, and contact area. The leakage model uses contact gap information and correlates it with hydraulic permeability between gasket and groove surfaces and predicts leakage using fluid flow through porous media equations. User inputs are gasket surface topography, size, material properties, operating pressure, and fluid viscosity. The calculations are performed on a small surface domain and results are then scaled-up to obtain contact load/leakage for the entire flange/gasket.
Various types of artificially generated surfaces were considered in the model and a parametric study was conducted. Effects of surface finishing have been explained by visual representation of model outputs such as contact status, load distribution, and leakage path. It was observed that critical contact stress to achieve complete sealability is highly dependent on surface characteristics. For similar surface topography, leakage rates are primarily a function of surface RMS. For the same RMS, it is more difficult to seal a randomly rough surface than a patterned or uniform one. As expected, it is easier to seal a soft gasket than a harder one. Similarly, it becomes progressively difficult to seal larger flanges.
Parametric studies/analysis can help improve understanding of leakage. The models can be used to understand relative magnitude of challenges in sealing gases/liquids at true viscosities. With further refinement and experimental validation, the models could serve as a design tool that could greatly assist in selecting effective seal and improve well process safety. Further, the presented approach can also be applied to develop leakage models for other metal-to-metal seal applications such as tubular connections, expandables, etc.