You’re gonna need a bigger boot 25 May 2020

By Jackie Hackett, director of global sales and marketing, APM Hexseal

Exposure to environmental substances such as water, chemicals, dirt, and salt, can cause significant damage to electronic equipment and systems. Depending on the system and the contaminant, contact can trigger system outages or lead to complete system failure.

Either of these conditions leads to unplanned downtime, increased equipment costs, and loss of profits. For many industrial electronic control systems, especially those employed in marine environments, sealing boots provide a solution to these issues and still allow the switch to function and actuate as intended.

Properly protecting these vulnerable electronic and mechanical systems, and ensuring their continued operation, is crucial to the safe navigation of the world’s waterways. Sealing boots are devices that protect the internal and external components of an electronic system.

They are used in a variety of marine applications, including navigation, communication, military destroyers, commercial fishing boats, and deep sea submarines. In these extreme environments, sealing boots maintain the integrity of sensitive electronic components by sealing stuff out. They also protect vulnerable ecosystems by sealing stuff in.

Protecting marine electronics and mechanical systems
Today’s marine vessels use high-tech electronic systems to plot and navigate their course; control operating equipment in various parts of the vessel; monitor and protect against external conditions such as weather and rough seas; investigate and observe subsea life and terrain; and keep internal environments safe and comfortable for crew members and cargo.

To maintain optimal performance in these systems, marine vessel and equipment manufacturers employ sealing boots to:

  • Provide corrosion protection: Water and salt can cause sensitive electronic components to corrode. This internal damage can lead to malfunctions that put lives and equipment at risk. Sealing equipment on marine vessels prevents these contaminants from entering.
  • Prevent contamination: In production and storage environments, lubricant, dust, oils, solvents, grease, and other environmental substances, can make their way into internal electronic mechanisms. If the build-up is left unresolved, this could interfere with functionality and result in system outages or failure. Marine sealing fasteners keep these unwanted substances from damaging electronic equipment, which could lead to catastrophic failure in mission critical environments.
  • Avoid overloads and short circuiting: Short circuits and electrical overloads can cause irreversible damage in electronic systems. Sealing boots made with non-conductive materials reduce the transfer of electrical energy, which safeguards electronics from a complete meltdown.
  • Extend equipment service life: Nothing lasts forever. This is especially true of delicate electronic system components. However, the addition of a marine sealing fastener can increase the service life of electronic components, such as breakers and switches.
  • Ensure long-term system security: As outlined above, sealing boots can provide various protections to different components of an electronic system. Together, these qualities help to ensure the integrity of the overall system.

Types of sealing boots
APM Hexseal manufactures a variety of different types of boots designed to protect various electronic components in marine systems, while still allowing the switch to actuate freely.

APM’s sealing boot offering includes circuit breaker, toggle, and pushbutton boots, to name a few. The circuit breaker boots are available in back-of-panel or front-of-panel mounting styles. On both models, a continuous sealing rib wraps around the lower portion of the flange to provide a
long-lasting seal. These boots are suitable for protecting electronic components from short circuiting and extending their service lives.

Also available, toggle boots consist of moulded silicone placed over threaded mounting nuts. This design allows the production of fully enclosed, single piece components that cover the switch. Available in full and half styles, APM Hexseal’s toggle boots include a sealing rib that keeps components securely attached to their mounting panels. These boots frequently find applications in protecting all types of toggle switches on fishing equipment and boat control panels.

Lastly, initially developed for military purposes, pushbutton boots from APM Hexseal are designed to provide pushbutton switches protection against extreme environments, such as low or high temperatures, inclement weather, salt, dust, dirt, humidity, etc. These pushbutton boots meet MIL-DTL-5423 specifications and when used will seal electronic switches, and safeguard them from potentially harmful external elements that contribute to corrosion and other damages.

Applications for sealing boots
Across industries, sensitive electronic equipment requires protection against a variety of environmental factors to ensure continued operation and consistent performance. Within the marine industry, sealing boots from APM Hexseal find use in a broad range of applications including commercial and recreational boats; underwater investigation and exploration; weather and marine; and military.

APM Hexseal has provided military grade sealing solutions for more than 70 years. During World War II, the company designed and manufactured sealing fasteners to keep electrical military equipment free of environmental contaminants such as dirt, dust, water, grease and salt that could compromise operations. Designed from durable silicone material, the sealing boots serve as a reliable and economical shield in the most hostile environments, making them the ideal solution for protecting electronic and mechanical systems operating in mission critical marine environments.

Like military vessels, commercial and recreational boats also rely on sensitive onboard equipment. These systems similarly require protection from environmental substances such as moisture, salt, or dust, to prevent contamination and ensure their continued operation.

Protecting delicate ecosystems
In addition to sealing environmental substances out to protect sensitive internal electronics, APM’s sealing solutions also seal hazardous compounds in to protect vulnerable ecosystems.

From deep sea locations to inland waterways, the waters and surrounding lands used for marine activities are at risk of contamination from leaking marine and undersea vessels. Depending on the compounds or pollutants contained within, when these vessels leak, the impact on the local ecosystem can be catastrophic. For example, when contaminants such as heavy metals and chemicals enter a marine environment, they can poison the entire food chain and cause fish and other food matter from that area to become inedible.

Most pollutants found in waterways stem from naturally occurring and human-based coastal and inland activities. Two main types of land-based pollutants affect marine ecosystems – nonpoint source pollution and point source pollution.

Nonpoint source pollution results from smaller, individualised cases of runoff. Runoff can stem from minor sources such as septic tanks and vehicles and major sources such as farms, livestock facilities, and harvesting areas. Although separately these sources may not produce considerable amounts of pollution, collectively they can cause significant damage to the surrounding environment.

Point source pollution results from a single source and incident, such as an oil spill or an industrial accident. Although these incidents occur less frequently, they typically have a widespread and catastrophic effect on an ecosystem.

Taking preventative measures
Oil spills are one of the biggest contributors to water pollution. Although big oil spills do have significant and lasting effects on the environment, collectively, smaller oil spills such as from refuelling or bilge discharging operations can have a greater environmental impact. Taking preventative measures, such as installing sealing boots and other sealing solutions, helps reduce the impact of marine operations on delicate ecosystems and fragile marine life.

By sealing marine equipment, manufacturers and end users not only protect sensitive internal electronics, they also mitigate the risk of hazardous compounds leaking and spreading into the world’s waters. Implementing regular and thorough inspections of equipment and systems could prevent a potentially hazardous leak or malfunction.

Sealing boots and fasteners from APM Hexseal are reusable, making them a smart economic choice for items requiring frequent access or maintenance. Durable sealing solutions available from APM Hexseal include circuit breaker boots, Seelbolts®, Seelnuts®, and Seelscrews®.

Claire Aldridge Deputy Editor t: +44 (0) 1727 814 450

Having joined the magazine in 2012, Claire developed her knowledge of the industry through the numerous company visits, exhibitions and conferences she attended both in the UK and abroad.

Claire prides herself on keeping readers well informed and up to date with the latest industry news.