Hydraulic pumps, which reach pressures up to 3000 bar, are often realized as plunger-piston type pumps. In the case of a common-rail pump for diesel injection systems, the plunger is driven by a cam-tappet construction and the contact during suction stroke is maintained by a helical spring. Many hydraulic piston-based high pressure pumps include gap seals, which are formed by small clearances between the two surfaces of the piston and the bushing. Usually the gap height is in the magnitude of several micrometers. Typical radial gaps are between 0.5 and 1 per mil of the nominal diameter. These gap seals are used to allow and maintain pressure build up in the piston chamber.

When the gap is pressurized, a special flow regime is reached. For the description of this particular flow the Reynolds equation, which is a simplification of the Navier-Stokes equations, can be used as done in the state of the art. Furthermore, if the pressure in the gap is high enough — 500 bar and above — fluid-structure interactions must be taken into account. Pressure levels above 1500 or 2000 bar indicate the necessity for solving the energy equation of the fluid phase and the rigid bodies surrounding it.

In any case, the fluid properties such as density and viscosity, have to be modelled in a pressure dependent manner. This means, a compressible flow is described in the sealing gap. Viscosity changes in magnitudes while density remains in the same magnitude, but nevertheless changes about 30 %. These facts must be taken into account when solving the Reynolds equation.

In this paper the authors work out that the Reynolds equation is not suitable for every piston-bushing gap seal in hydraulic applications. It will be shown that remarkable errors are made, when the inertia terms in the Navier-Stokes equations are neglected, especially in high pressure applications.

To work out the influence of the inertia terms in these flows, two simulation models are built up and calculated for the physical problem. One calculates the compressible Reynolds equation neglecting the fluid inertia. The other model, taking the fluid inertia into account, calculates the coupled Navier-Stokes equations on the same geometrical boundaries. Here, the so called SIMPLE (Semi-Implicit Method for Pressure Linked Equations) algorithm is used. The discretization is realized with the Finite Volume Method. Afterwards, the solutions of both models are compared to investigate the influence of the inertia terms on the flow in these specific high pressure applications.

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