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Shaft seals are used on rotating, reciprocating, and oscillating shafts to contain oil and grease and exclude contaminants. Known as oil or radial lip seals, shaft seals can also contain pressure or separate fluids. They have several key strengths: They are economical, easy to install, and effective in many environments.
A shaft seal is but one part of a three-part system. Another part is the moving shaft itself. (Its motion can be a round-and-round rotation, in-and-out reciprocation, or back-and-forth rotating oscillation.) The third part of a sealing system is the housing into which the seal is installed. Fig. 1 shows a shaft seal installed in a housing bore.
Any mechanical assembly containing fluids must be designed so that these substances flow only where intended and do not leak out of the assembly. Seals incorporated into mechanical designs prevent such leakage at the points where different assembly parts meet; these meeting points are known as mating surfaces, and the space between them is called a clearance gap. The purpose of a seal is to block the clearance gap so that nothing passes through it.
Shaft seals are common in gearbox assemblies, hydraulic pumps and motors, and reciprocating applications, as wiper seals.