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Expansion joints are used in piping systems to absorb thermal

expansion where the use of expansion loops is undesirable or
impractical. Expansion joints are available in slip, ball, metal
bellows, and rubber bellows configurations.
Slip-type expansion joints (Fig. 1) have a sleeve that telescopes
into the body. Leakage is controlled by packing located between
the sleeve and the body. Leakage is minimal and can be near
zero in many applications. A completely leak-free seal cannot be
ensured; thus these expansion joints are ruled out where zero
leakage is required.

Fig. 1 - Slip-type expansion joint

The packing is subject to wear due to cyclic movement of the

sleeve when connected piping expands and contracts. Thus,
these joints require periodic maintenance, either to compress
the packing by tightening a packing gland or to replace or
replenish the packing. Replacement of the packing rings is
necessary when leakage develops in a joint that has an
adjustable packing gland which has been tightened to its limit.
Some designs provide for packing replenishment rather than
replacement. These are usually called gun-packed or rampacked slip joints. Since the packing can wear away, some
packing material may be picked up in the line fluid. This rules
out the use of slip joints in systems, where such contamination
of fluid cannot be tolerated.
Slip-type expansion joints are particularly suited for lines
having straight-line (axial) movements of large magnitude. Slip
joints cannot tolerate lateral offset or angular rotation (cocking)
since this would cause binding, galling, and possibly leakage
due to packing distortion. Therefore, the use of proper pipe
alignment guides is essential.

Fig. 2 - Typical ball expansion joint

Ball expansion joints (Fig. 2) consist of a socket and ball with a

sealing mechanism placed between them. The seals are of rigid
materials, and in some designs a pliable sealant may be injected
into the cavity located between the ball and socket. The joints
are capable of absorbing angular and axial rotation; however,
they cannot accommodate movement along the longitudinal
axis of the joint. Therefore, an offset must be installed in the
line to absorb pipe axial movement.

Fig. 3 - Metal bellows expansion joint

Bellows-type expansion joints (Fig. 3) do not have packing; thus

they do not have the potential leakage or fluid contamination
problems sometimes associated with slip joints. Likewise, they
do not require the periodic maintenance (lubrication and
repacking) that is associated with slip joints. Bellows joints
absorb expansion and contraction by means of a flexible
bellows that is compressed or extended.
They can also accommodate direction changes by various
combinations of compression on one side and extension on an
opposing side. Thus, they can adjust to lateral offset and

angular rotation of the connected piping. However, they are not

capable of absorbing torsional movement. Typically, the
bellows is corrugated metal and is welded to the end pieces. To








considerably thinner than the associated piping. Thus these

expansion joints are especially susceptible to rupture by
overpressure. A bellows can also fail because of metal fatigue if
the accumulated flexing cycles exceed the designed fatigue life
(cyclic life) of the bellows or if the flexing extremes exceed the
designed compression and extension limits.

Fig. 4 - Rubber expansion joint

Rubber expansion joints (Fig. 4) are similar in design to metal

bellows expansion joints except that they are constructed of
fabric and wire-reinforced elastomer's They are most suitable
for use in cold water service where large movements must be
absorbed (e.g., condenser circulating water).