O-rings. They're those small, looped elastomers that mechanics and photography hobbyists always seem to say they need when they're in the middle of some project. Up until a few days ago, I was as clueless as the average person when it came to o-rings. So being the geek that I am, I looked it up and was pretty much blown away by what I found out.
That led me to think about what the world would be like without o-rings--and let me just say, they weren't very pretty.
The 411 on O-rings
Before anything else, let's go over what o-rings are and when people started to make them. O-rings, which are sometimes called toric joints, are mechanical gaskets in the shape of a loop. They'e basically used to seal connections made between different parts. This could be in an engine, a camera, a pressure tank, and almost every material object that's connected or made up of different parts.
They were patented by Niels Christensen back in 1937, but it was deemed as a critical war-related commodity, so other firms were allowed to manufacture it as well.
Types of O-rings
Given its expansive array of uses, you can expect an equally extensive variety of o-rings to be available. There are several published standards listing down the dimensions of commonly-used o-rings, such as the AS568 Standard and ISO 3601 Standard Metric o-ring sizes.
Uses of O-rings
Now to the main thing we're gunning to talk about. As mentioned earlier, o-rings are used to seal pressure in between moving parts, making them ideal (if not, required) for machines and for use with shafts and pistons. Other applications include high-temperature and vacuum applications as wel.
That said, basically every man-made machine in the world--from pumps, to hydraulic cylinders, and housings, to spaceships--makes use of o-rings, and requires them to function as they should.
A Specific Example: O-rings and Cameras
Take the camera, for example. If you enjoy looking at underwater shots or footage, then you probably know that o-rings are instrumental to making that possible. They're a crucial component in underwater camera housings, which typically make shooters waterproof for depths from 30 to 100 feet. They have to be made to withstand large amounts of pressure, which as you may already know, increases with increasing depth. Basically, the o-ring seals the front and back plates to keep the water out (and protect your camera), making all those underwater shots possible.
Now Imagine a World Without O-rings...
It doesn't paint a very nice picture, does it? Without o-rings, we wouldn't have even the most basic of machines that we need and use to survive and live our lives, each and every day.
Still can't picture it? Remember the Space Shutter Challenger disaster back in 1986? The spacecraft exploded because the o-ring used in the rocket booster didn't seal properly because of the cold weather conditions. Disaster struck a mere 73 seconds after its launch.
How's that for emphasizing the importance of o-rings?