Know Your Resources!

I’ve been doing this seal gig for a while now and there are times when I think I’ve seen just about every kind of seal and seal application out there – especially in the industrial and off-road markets.

I haven’t. Almost every day I get asked a question that I don’t know the answer to; about a part, an application, a manufacturer.

I rely on a lot of resources.

arrowsI am reminded of this as one of my colleagues just returned from the latest NFPA Conference (National Fluid Power Association). Just one of the many associations specific to the seal and fluid power industry. The resources available via networking, seminars, or even conversation over breakfast can be game changers. More arrows (resources) for the quiver.

We are members of the ISD (International Seal Distributors Association). Another great network of peers doing what I do every day. Great resources. More arrows.
Even internally, I am constantly going to my internal team for suggestions, solutions, how, who, what etc. I work with a talented group of people dedicated to serving our customer needs and being our customer’s best resource for seal applications and requirements. They are pretty good at what they do – and pretty good at knowing when we need to access reliable resources.

So yes, ESP International is a resource. A very good seal resource. Get to know us. We want to be the sharpest arrow in your quiver.

nfpa_blk-350    IDA_blk_350  ISDmember_blk_350


Don Grawe is Director of Seal Markets for ESP International. He has over 20 years of experience in the seal industry serving the OEM industrial marketplace. You can learn more about ESP International at




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Quality is NOT a Certificate on the Wall

Yes, it’s true. I am guilty of sitting in meetings and making the ridiculous statement “quality is a given”.


Sometimes I just don’t hear myself.  What I should have said was, “the quality that our customers expect is a given”. Providing quality product, quality service, quality response, quality delivery, well… that’s certainly not a given. But, when you do meet that expectation and do it every time, you are world class.  And frankly, it’s not as common as you may think. A lot of people talk the talk, but how many can walk the walk?


Quality doesn’t happen by accident. It doesn’t happen because you have great people but it takes great people with a passion for quality. Consistent reliable quality in any component of your business goes to the core, the heart and soul of who you are and what you do. Yes, DO! Not did. Quality is not a certificate on the wall.

At ESP International we are very proud to have some of the truly world class OEM’s as our customers.  And with that, we have been adamant about our culture to quality. To becoming world-class to our customers. We love it when our customers critically rate us and all their suppliers – we want it.  They know that when we are asked to provide a product or service that our processes and systems go to every conceivable detail to make sure that quality “is a given”. They have come to expect it from us.


I still remember going through the process of getting our first ISO Certification nearly 20 years ago. I remember wondering why is all this necessary? Am I doing it just because our customers are asking us to? Or, am I doing it to embrace the culture. In fact, it has become our culture. It’s not just a good idea, it’s a way of life… ESP life.  Are we perfect? I wish we were… but the quality of what we do gives us the best chance to get there. That is a given.


Don Grawe is Director of Seal Markets for ESP International. He has over 20 years of experience in the seal industry serving the OEM industrial marketplace. You can learn more about ESP International at

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How ESP Employee-Ownership Affects You

This December, ESP International will mark our fifth anniversary as a 100% employee-owned company.  This is a very exciting milestone for our company!

As we reflect upon those years, we celebrate all the various tangible and intangible ways that this unique opportunity changes the lives of our employee-owners and their families.

And how being employee-owned changes how we do business with you.

The core values at ESP International are Expertise, Service, and Passion and having “a stake in the game” amplifies how our employee-owners demonstrate those values.

Every day we approach our work and make decisions from the perspective of an owner:owners flag

  • focused on providing world-class service
  • striving for continuous improvement
  • creating value for all our stakeholders

We take ownership of each customer, each order, each transaction and see it through to resolution because WE OWN IT.

When you work with ESP International, you work directly with employee-owners.  We are a unique group of people who are laser-focused on a single goal: creating value for our customers and themselves by living our core values every day.

Have questions about employee ownership?

Check out these infographics from the National Center for Employee Ownership:


Or ask any one of our owners!



Becky Streff is ESP’s Director of  Organizational Effectiveness. She has held many key roles with ESP for over 10 years – including an originating member of ESP’s ESOP fiduciary committee.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

ESP Inspection Advancements

In a lot of respects, I can be pretty old school.  Baseball should be played with wooden bats and there should be no designated hitter. You play the field. You bat. In full disclosure, I had a college baseball career because of the new DH rule – but doesn’t mean I like the rule. I think people should actually, at least occasionally, talk to each other. Doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for texting, emailing, insta-somethings, etc. I use them too. But the reality is that in today’s world if you aren’t utilizing and performing to what the market has and requires today, you are eating competitors dust.
Accuracy and speed to market aren’t things to wish for anymore. If you aren’t accurate, if you don’t assure quality, and you don’t turn product and services around quickly, well… it’s that dust menu New Visual Inspection Capabilities Videoagain.

If you are in the seal business you have and know how to use a calipers, micrometer, CMM, VCMM and the like. These are upgrades to the tapes and rulers of generations past right? But today, even those aren’t always good enough.  At ESP International we continue to press the envelope providing the best of services, product assurance, and speed to market.  Check out the video and see our new ruler. Speed to respond. Accurate to assure. Utilized to serve you better.

Do I still have a caliper on my desk? Yep. Right next to my ruler and rolodex.


Don Grawe is Director of Seal Markets for ESP International. He has over 20 years of experience in the seal industry serving the OEM industrial marketplace. You can learn more about ESP International at

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

VMI – One Size Doesn’t Fit All

I’m sitting in the Shanghai PuDong airport going over trip notes and it hits me like a ton of bricks… even on the other side of the world we, OK customers, can take what should be a good idea and make it way too complicated, costly and exhausting.
A major multi-national company wants to utilize a simple VMI program (Vendor vmi-thManaged Inventory) for a few very good reasons, they need parts, need to minimize inventory dollars, and want to minimize administration. Makes sense, that’s why VMI programs exist. But here’s the deal, let’s not reinvent the o-ring.
VMI programs have been around for several years. Primarily designed to manage low cost “class C” items without all those purchase orders, expedites, missed lines, out-of-stocks, wrong parts… Some vendors come in and do “bin fill”, on site to review stock levels, replenish, record and invoice. Seems simple too and it is. It can work.
Others set up KanBan programs, multi-bin systems that when a bin or box is used it triggers an order. Yet others replace product based on production. I built 250 robotic widgets today, so I must have used 250 gaskets, seals, fasteners, labels… they need to be replaced.
You get the idea. There are a lot of ways to attack the issue. The reality is not one size fits all. There are a lot of really cool systems and most work really well in MRO and parts departments. But when it comes to OEM production, well it gets a little more complicated. Lights, scanners, WiFi and pixie dust can do good things but how you do your business and the 4 competitors down the street all do things very different.
That’s where we, ESP International, comes in. No need to add cost and change systems any more than necessary. It doesn’t have to be complicated. You are doing this to REDUCE cost. Reduce hassle. Reduce shortages. Let’s talk about what makes sense for you. VMI works when done right. We’ve had systems in place for many years and they keep on ticking. Customers are loving them. Good luck getting any of them to go back to the old way. We know small parts. We know VMI. In fact, we make small parts a big part of your bottom line.


Don Grawe is Director of Seal Markets for ESP International. He has over 20 years of experience in the seal industry serving the OEM industrial marketplace. You can learn more about ESP International at

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Possible Solution to Warranty Costs

Ok, this is going to sound simple and maybe silly but it is real.
Assuming you have a little bit of Mr (or Mrs) Fixit in you, have you ever looked into a garden hose connection that is spraying out all over everywhere only to find that the little gasket that goes into the connection is missing? Where did it go? Did I drop it? Was it ever there? If it was there why doesn’t it work?
What about that leaky faucet that you just replaced the washers and fittings. It’s still leaking! Exasperation is setting in.
You know what, this happens a lot more than you might think. In the building of all kinds of industrial machines, one of the biggest reasons for warranty claims is – NO SEALS! And if it does have a seal and you take it apart, it looks fine, then, why does it leak? So, you take it back. But often it’s not the seal that is bad. Installed improperly, squeezed too much, or it’s just plain missing… it’s the cheapest component on the widget. Did I use the word exasperation already?gasko-seal2
O-rings fall out. Gaskets get compressed into non-elastic strips of hard black non-sealing things. OK, you get my point. There is a solution. And utilizing a good material with sound design eliminates most of the scenarios. Gask-O-Seals. Taking multiple gaskets and o-rings and incorporating them into one retainer ring that limits the amount of compressive force on the seal. An answer you should really consider if any of these things are causing you warranty costs. How much does one single warranty claim cost you? Take that times “X” – your number of claims. Yes, Gask-o-Seals cost a little more than a set of o-rings. But by eliminating these warranty costs you save a bunch.
Not sure it’s an answer to my leaking garden hose, but at least if I know the seal is there and properly installed, it’s now a non-issue.

Click here to learn more!


Don Grawe is Director of Seal Markets for ESP International. He has over 20 years of experience in the seal industry serving the OEM industrial marketplace. You can learn more about ESP International at

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

10 Factors That Can Lead to Seal Wear

All seals fail… eventually.

Not something you want to hear? But it’s true. At least I am not aware otherwise. Now
eventually can be a really long time – hopefully. It can also be way too short. That’s where the headaches begin. When a seal fails we instinctively blame a bad seal, right? But let’s do a quick refresher on one of the factors that can cause your leak; WEAR.

This is a factor most seen in dynamic applications. Moving parts, varying pressures, fluid and gasses moving through; things just wear out. But how do we control when, or how long before they wear out?

The Parker Fluid Power Guide cites 10 factors that can lead to seal wear.

How many can you name?seal-wear

Here’s five of the most well known:
1. Contamination
2. High pressure
3. High temperature
4. A rough surface finish
5. Media compatibility

When you rule those out, what else is going on?

6. Extra smooth surface can cause premature wear. Too smooth means little lubrication which increases friction that creates heat that can cause accelerated wear that can fail the seal.

7. Speaking of friction, are all the mating parts playing nicely together when it comes to the coefficient of friction? A high coefficient of friction on the material will create higher friction between parts which increases abrasion, heat, and accelerates wear.

8. Ever look at the tensile strength of the seal material? Bubble gum has a low tensile strength. It might have worked on you bike tire for a few blocks when you were a kid (yes, I remember doing that once) but it has no tensile strength and doesn’t last long. Higher tensile strengths help resist abrasion and tearing.

9. Does the fluid have lubricity value? Water isn’t a good lubricant. In dynamic applications sealing water, material selection is important. Is there lubrication at the sealing contact point? What kind? How effective. If not, guess what increased abrasion, friction, temperature etc…

10. Finally, too hard a sealing surface can be a problem. Why? Over time there is usually some ‘smoothing’ of the surfaces where the seal and wear rings contact. If the mating surfaces don’t smooth out, the seals will, causing accelerated wear.

“Wear” is just one family of causes to why seals can fail. The more you know about all the factors and how to combat them the more likely to have a seal that eventually fails… much later.


Don Grawe is Director of Seal Markets for ESP International. He has over 20 years of experience in the seal industry serving the OEM industrial marketplace. You can learn more about ESP International at

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Don’t Let Your Seal Leave You with A Bad Taste…

FDA, NSF, 3-A Sanitary, E-3A Sanitary, … how many of you have actually read the specs and requirements? By the way, I like milk, eggs, and beer. Let me explain…

True story. We have a pump and valve customer who came to us because of complaints he was getting from his end customer, a beer producer. The seals he was using were affecting the taste of the product. Now if it was yogurt or some green juice concoction, I probably wouldn’t have given it the proper urgency. But after all, this was beer! This was urgent!
In fact, there were minuscule particles of the seal material ingredients that, over time, were leaching and potentially affecting taste. The material was determined to be to spec and it met all the requirements and certifications, but it still affected the beer.
I bring up this story from time to time when I get into a discussion about FDA or NSF approvals, uh, I mean certifications, or standards… it can be confusing. Is there a difference? Yes!
Ever been asked to provide something FDA Certified? How about NSF Approved? In essence, the questioner is asking for something that meets the federal requirements, and knowledge of the difference between what’s approved, certified or just meeting the standard is sometimes blurry at best.

Here’s a quick tutorial (Thank you Parker O-Ring handbook to keep me straight too.)

The FDA does not approve end compounds. What they have done is created a list of ingredients that can be used in compounds that are neither toxic nor carcinogenic. If compounds are created using these ingredients and pass further extraction tests they then “meet the FDA requirements”. They are not “approved”. They are not “certified”. As Parker states, “It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to compound food grade materials from the FDA list of ingredients…”

Then there’s the NSF, National Sanitation Foundation. Here is where there are certifications. In this case, materials are submitted for certification and must pass very stringent tests. Once certified they can be promoted as being NSF 61 “listed” materials. There is also an NSF 51 standard. Applications vary and so do the appropriate materials. Consult your seal supplier (ESP) for the proper compound to the necessary certification. Oh, and then are multiple European and global standards that I won’t get into here (WRAS and such).

Confused yet? So what about 3-A Sanitary and E-3A requirements that were developed in cooperation with several agencies and no, despite popular assumptions, not the FDA. And by the way, there’s a crackdown to see who is and who isn’t in compliance. You’ve been warned. In short, the 3-A standards are intended for elastomers used in the dairy industry where there is product contact on dairy equipment. The E-3A, on the other hand, is intended where there is contact with egg processing equipment. Now the specifications are virtually the same but meant to establish criteria for the rubber material in how it holds up to frequent cleaning and anti-bacterial treatments to the equipment as well as being compatible with the product and process. As we know, cleaning agents can be hard on elastomers if you don’t have a compound that is compatible. Clean equipment also means good functioning seals.
Short and sweet but a few basics. There’s a lot more to these standards but it’s important to know the differences. After all, I don’t want an o-ring ruining my breakfast. And I really like the taste of my beer.


Don Grawe is Director of Seal Markets for ESP International. He has over 20 years of experience in the seal industry serving the OEM industrial marketplace. You can learn more about ESP International at

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Robots Are Everywhere

In 1965 Lost in Space was a very popular show. And one of the most popular characters was “Robot B9” otherwise known as “Robot”. Clever writing back then.  But even before Robot, there was Rosie.  That faithful, trusted, hardworking housekeeping robot owned by the Jetsons. Both were depictions of the future. What can be… will be.  You know, they were ahead of their time by only a few decades – not millenniums.

Robots today can vacuum our carpets, play the piano, perform surgery, destroy you at ping pong, or in Japan, actually be your family pet.  But in our industrial world, I would say they are even more impressive – and necessary.robot blog

We’ve seen the robotics on the automotive assembly lines but in actuality what precision manufacturing process today doesn’t use robotics.

In a story last month by NBC News, China will have more robots in production facilities than any other country by 2017.  Today, South Korea has 437 robots for every 10,000 manufacturing workers. The US has 152.  That’s a lot of robots!

Reliability becomes essential. These are mechanical and electronic beings.  Components pieced together by very smart people to do very specific tasks often without supervision.  Turn them on, let them go.  The don’t take breaks. They run multiple shifts. Like the Energizer Bunny, they just keep on going.  …or at least they are expected to.  That’s where my world comes in. SEALS.  Testing seals for robotic applications have led to some interesting results.  Not all seals are created equal.  Some look alike. Generically they appear the same. But little nuances in design and material can be the difference between a robot running all through the night, or having its Servo motor overheat and die. Thus stopping production and requiring expensive repair.

At ESP we know seals. We know seals for Robotics.  Lip loads, speeds, temperatures all affect a seal lasting 500 hours or 10,000 hours. Yes, 10,000 hours. Materials act differently from NBR’s and HNBR’s to FKM’s and acrylics compounds.  Robots for assembly, cutting, sawing… the opportunities are endless for robotic applications and the requirements are only going to become more demanding for performance and cost effectiveness.  Let ESP help you in your robotic seal design.


Don Grawe is Director of Seal Markets for ESP International. He has over 20 years of experience in the seal industry serving the OEM industrial marketplace. You can learn more about ESP International at

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

3 Easy Rules to Keep Your O-Rings From Turning Into Bad Potato Salad

Ever go to the fridge and spot that Tupperware container in the back corner of the second shelf. What is it? Is it any good? Do I dare open it? OK, if you are already getting squeamish, STOP. Find another blog.

I don’t think bread should have green spots, should it? Ever smell bad potato salad?  I would have sworn I just bought that freshly sliced deli roast beef… shouldn’t feel slimy. How fast can mushrooms turn bad? Fast!

I’m old school as most of you know. At our house, we can feed an Army at any time because of full cabinets, freezer, and fridge.  Other than a bowl of cereal, I don’t think any of my grown children have enough food in the house at any given time to have a good snack – except for the apples, bananas, and grapes – all that healthy stuff. They go to the market when they are ready to cook, get what they need, cook it, eat it, and dispose of it.  No leftovers. No storage. Not much need for plastic containers that burp when you put the lid on.tupperware

So what’s the point? Is that how you manage your seal consumption too?  Buy what you need when you need it? Use it… ship it.  No leftovers?

Or, do you have Tupperware containers in the fridge? …boxes, and bags full of o-rings. Some opened. Some unopened. Is it climate controlled? Not climate controlled? Are they still good?  How do you know?  Here’s the deal, not all o-rings are created equal.  Not all shelf lives are the same. AND, if not properly stored, who knows what effect their environment has had on their performance.

Here are a few rules to live by:

  1. Store in sealed bags, preferably in boxes, and out of sunlight. Ozone can be bad on many elastomers.

  2. Keep in controlled temperatures between 60 and 100 degrees. Too cold, they get hard and can deform. Usually come back when warmed, though. Too hot? Too bad. Overheated elastomers don’t usually recover.

  3. Manage your o-rings batch and lot dates. The SAE has issued the current standard for a shelf life of o-ring elastomers – ARP 5316. For a complete listing you can check out our website.

Keep in mind, again, not all o-rings are created equal. Good manufacturers have recommendations for their compounds based on the recipes that go into those compounds. SAE’s ARP 5316  is a generic standard.

Here’s what I have found from four different suppliers when it comes to shelf life… DO NOT FOLLOW THESE GUIDELINES!

  • EPDM: from 10 years to unlimited
  • NBR: 5 years to 15 years
  • FKM: 15 years to unlimited

That much variance, really? Know the shelf life of the material you are using. These variances are because of what is really in some of those seals.

Don’t rely on that container in the back of the fridge to be good. Store parts properly and know your shelf life.


Don Grawe is Director of Seal Markets for ESP International. He has over 20 years of experience in the seal industry serving the OEM industrial marketplace. You can learn more about ESP International at

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment