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HARTMANN, J stripped and different aspects of the equipment were

DOS SANTOS, A observed. Research with regards to the adequacy of

the bearings and other components was also
conducted and based on this information; the
investigators concluded that the current maintenance
FAILURE ANALYSIS practices used on the plant must be revised. And that

OF SEWERAGE the type of bearings and grease currently used should

be replaced with those more suited for the application.

TREATMENT Cr - Radial load carrying capacity of bearing

PLANT cSt - Viscosity (Centistokes)
Fd - Service/dynamic factor
Fl - Life factor

ABSTRACT Fn - Speed factor

P- Effective radial load
Water is one of the most important substances on SRB - Spit roller bearing
this planet as it is fundamental in sustaining all
forms of life from the smallest organisms to the INTRODUCTION
largest. The water treatment plant in Middelburg is
designed to filter and recycle sewerage in order to Human beings use large volumes of water for
make it fit for human consumption. This plant domestic and industrial applications. To use water
makes use of equipment called aerators in their more efficiently in an ever increasing and demanding
process which aerate the slurry and thereby allow environment, it is necessary to recycle the water so
bacteria to thrive and recycle the water naturally. It that it can be re-used. Wastewater treatment plants
was found that the bearings on this equipment were clean the used water containing sewage and debris;
regularly failing long before their predicted the processes implemented in these plants include: the
lifecycle’s have ended and this has significant health removal of large particles and debris with the use of
as well as cost and stability implications. The coarse filters, secondly the settling out of particles and
objective of this investigation was to determine removal of oil and fat on the surface, thirdly the
what was causing the catastrophic failures, as well aeration of the water to speed up bacterial growth
as what could be done in the future to prevent these which aids the cleaning process, the fourth step is the
types of breakdowns. During the investigation, settling out of activated sludge particles and finally
several failed components from the plant were the adding of industrial strength bleach to kill the

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remaining bacteria before the water is injected back aerators in order to get a better understanding of how
into the supply chain/ nature. [4] they operate. The literature survey covers the relevant
theory acquired for the detail analysis of the bearing
In the past the bearings on the aerator units used in failures on the aerator units.
the Middelburg water treatment plant lasted more
than six months on average, but recently these
An aerator is a device that flings the slurry/wastewater
bearings’ life was reduced to less than one month on
into the air and then mixes air into this slurry. By
average before they failed catastrophically. The
aerating the slurry it also increases the rate at which
maintenance of the water treatment plant in
bacteria forms inside it, this bacteria helps break
Middelburg is currently being done by a
down the composition of the slurry aiding the process
maintenance contractor and they have specified split
of separation of the water from the contaminants and
roller bearings (SRB’s) for the plants bearing
thus helps the process of cleaning wastewater.
applications. These bearing units have been
These aerator shafts are six meters long and have a
designed to work well in a water filled environment,
diameter of about 1,4m; the next figure shows this
and should thus perform exceptionally well in the
schematically. This 6m long shaft has blades attached
aerator application, but for some reason they do not
to it which have fins that grip onto the slurry more
deliver the expected results. This now motivates
effectively flinging it into the air. The operating
detailed research into the reasons why these bearing
speeds of these units are in the order of 70 revolutions
units fail in a situation where they are supposed to
per minute (RPM). The tubs in which these aerator
be sufficient.
units are mounted have a depth of about 9 meters, and
the water currents below the surface are very high to
In performing the analysis to identify the probable
ensure that the slurry is mixed continuously.
cause of premature failure of the bearing units, the
grease inside the bearings was analysed by use of
the crackle test to test for the presence of water, the
type of seal used was analysed and compared to the
manufacturer’s specification for that application,
and other bearing and sealing solutions were also
Figure 1.1: Aerator Sahft Schematic


Before an investigation can begin, we first need to

research all of the necessary topics related to

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bearings and Igus bearings are the types of bearings
discussed here.


Numerous solutions exist for this bearing problem,
most of which can fall either into the category of
rolling element bearings or journal bearings. A pillar
Figure 1.2 Aerators in Action
block bearing has a cast housing containing a standard
These aerator shafts weigh about 880kg, if the bearing unit; the sealing of the bearing from the
estimated mass of the slurry is accounted for. The outside environment is done by means of adding seals
environment that the bearings on these aerator in the cast base’s ends that seal onto the rotating shaft.
shafts are in is a very wet, and contaminant filled Y-bearings however, have the added advantage of
environment. Some of the contaminants include being integrally sealed (seal rests on an integral sleeve
mud, fatty deposits and oils. These bearings thus that is part of the bearing unit). This will prevent
have to be sealed off very well to protect the lubricant contamination during installation and partly
lubricant from contamination from the outside compensate for the damaged shaft. An example of a
environment. Figure 1.3 shows the operating Y-bearing produced by SKF is shown in figure 1.4,
environment of one of these bearings. while a schematic of the sealing mechanism for the
SKF Y-bearing TR design can be seen in figure 1.5.
For both these bearing types, many housings and
bearing options exist, the detail calculations for these
bearings fall outside the scope of this report, but the
following bearings are suggested:
 Housing: SYJ515, Bearing unit: YAR215-2F

 SNL plummer block housing SNL 517 TL with

Spherical roller bearing 24015

These bearings have the ability to work in very wet

environments and also to take up some misalignment
Figure 1.3: Operating Environment of the shaft. For ease of maintenance some other
bearings which include a tapered inner ring can be
used to fasten the bearing to the shaft, this means that
This section shows alternative options considered
the shaft tolerance needn’t be as strict as in the case
for the bearing application. Pillar block bearings/Y-
where the bearing is slid or pressed onto the shaft.

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In performing a failure analysis it is necessary to

follow a systematic approach considering all the
different aspects that can contribute to the failure.
With respect to the bearings at the sewage plant in
Middelburg it was decided to follow these steps in the
failure analysis:
Figure 1.4: Integrally Sealed Y-bearing unit  A detailed failure investigation whereby the parts
that were retrieved from the failed equipment
were systematically disassembled and cleaned and
various observations were noted.

 A detail grease analysis to determine whether

there is contamination present in the lubricant
(such as water or silica). This analysis will also
determine the type of wear particles present to
give an indication of the wear mechanism present,
Figure 1.5: Y-bearing with double seal
thus giving more information as to what could be
the cause of failure
 Detail calculations to verify the use of the SRB’s
These bearings are made from a plastic material and
with respect to their strength and life
fall in the category of journal bearings [5]. They
have advantages concerning wet environments and  A search to determine whether the shafts comply
are virtually unaffected by most chemicals, they are to the requirements set forth by the manufacturer
able to handle fairly large loads including shock when using SRB’s (with respect to surface finish
loads and are cost effective to install. Unfortunately and diametric and taper tolerance)
these bearings are not available as standard in the
 A search into the type of lubricant used to
sizes that we are looking for and will therefore not
determine whether it has the viscosity and
be easy to come by due to the fact that they will
lubrication properties as prescribed by the
have to be pre-manufactured. The cost analysis for
the complete installation of these bearings falls out
of the scope of this research report.

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 A detailed search into the types of seals that are  The bottom part of internal split sleeve
used and their ability to seal in the environment (expected to clamp onto the shaft) had been
on the aerator units eroded away, indicating rotation between the
split sleeve and shaft.
 General overview of the maintenance practice at
the plant to determine if it is adequate for the
relevant equipment and operating conditions.


The next section considers the disassembly of the
bearings and the observations made


This entailed the disassembly of the bearing unit,
Figure 2.1: The SRB with the top section of the
whilst carefully documenting and recording
outer cage removed
information, in order to preserve evidence. The
bullets included below discuss some of the
noteworthy observations made during this process. Sealing & Shaft Condition
This section considers the seals used in the bearings
In order to focus and concentrate the study, a and the observations made during disassembly.
detailed failure investigation was conducted on one Sealing
of the failed SRB’s. The investigation consisted of  The top part of the felt seals remained largely
the following: a visual inspection, evaluating the intact, and should have been capable of providing
condition of the various internal parts during some sealing depending on the condition of the
disassembly, as well as a lubricant examination shaft.
examining the condition of the lubricant found  The shaft sealing areas had been eroded away; (in
inside the bearing. all probability after the bearing failed) thus no
conclusion can be drawn by examining the sealing
Roller & Internal Bearing Condition
 The areas adjacent to the sealing areas were
 The Internal part of the bearing had been
largely corroded which could have resulted in seal
corroded throughout.
failure, if the sealing areas were of similar
 The open areas inside the housing were filled
condition during installation.
with rust and fouling.

Shaft condition

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Upon investigation of the shaft, it was found that it
had deep grooves running circumferentially around
it at the position where the bearing is seated. This
indicates that there was severe abrasion from the
bearing housing, as well as bearing particles inside
the housing probably after the failure. Another
observation that was made while one of the bearings
was being replaced on site is that little or no repair
or build up of the shaft takes place prior to it being
put back into service. This means that every time a
Figure 2.3: Close up of the damaged shaft
new bearing is attached to a severely worn shaft and
allows water and foreign particles to enter the
General Observations
bearing due to the seals which are unable to
 The eroded groove lines on the internal split
function adequately. This obviously reduces the life
sleeve clearly point to rotation between the split
of the bearing as it is not designed to have large
sleeve and the shaft which occurred some time or
amounts of water and foreign debris inside it.
another. See Figure 2.4a
Figures 2.2 and 2.3 below show the severe erosion
 Whilst investigating the photos of the disassembly
and corrosion on the shaft.
process it had been noted that the split plane of
the internal shaft split sleeve, roller cage, and
outer casing is still aligned as if the bearing had
just been assembled. See Figure 2.4b
 The probability of these three planes aligning on
the moment of failure after running normally is
very small. There is a larger probability that the
bearing never rotated internally, but instead
formed a journal bearing between the split sleeve
and shaft from the start.
 The small hex bolts used to tighten the split sleeve

Figure 2.2: Picture showing severe erosion and to the shaft were found loose inside the bearing

corrosion of the shaft casing (between the rollers), the bolts showed
very little signs of mechanical damage, which
would have been the case if the rollers rotated
normally. This further supports the statement

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made above that the bearing assembly never lubricants) for a detail analysis of the grease. They
rotated as designed. See Figure 2.4c were asked to check for the presence of water,
perform a search into all the contaminants inside the
sample and to study the grease under a microscope to
identify the wear particles’ shapes found inside the
grease sample.

Figure 2.5: Grease samples retrieved from failed unit

A small problem was however encountered;

Wearcheck® needed a sample of at least 50ml of
grease to be able to conduct any tests for the
determining of the above mentioned points. The only
option was to implement simple test procedures that
could be carried out by the authors, the tests were set
Figure 2.4a,b,c: Observations made during up to determine the presence of water (crackle test),
disassembly the presence of contaminants (dilution of the grease
then filtration and observing the filter paper after
Detail grease analysis filtration) and to try to determine shape and size of the
Two very small grease samples (about 2,5ml each) wear particles/metals under a microscope to comment
were retrieved from the failed bearing obtained on the failure mechanism. The results are as follows:
from the sewage plant in Middelburg (see Figure
2.5); the samples were so small due to the fact that Test for the presence of water
the bearings had failed in such a way that almost all To determine the presence of water it was decided to
the grease was pushed out of the unit. These do a simple test called the crackle test, in performing
samples were then taken to Wearcheck® (a this test one rapidly brings the grease sample to a
company specializing in the detail analysis of temperature above 100°C, typically by bringing it in

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contact with a hot stove plate or a soldiering iron, if
the sample contains water the water inside will boil
creating bubbles in the grease and causing a
crackling sound.

The test was performed on three grease samples,

firstly on a control sample (clean grease), then on a
Figure 2.6: Filter paper with contaminants trapped on
sample taken from the top of the failed bearing and
lastly on a sample taken from the bottom of the
failed bearing. With the control grease (ordinary
bearing grease) the only remark is that the grease
that came in contact with the soldiering iron started
to smoke. The other two grease samples (one from
the top and one from the bottom of the bearing)
when brought into contact with the soldiering iron
smoked much more than the control sample and
made crackling sounds, like water droplets on a hot
plate. This indicates that there was water entrained
in the grease retrieved from the bearing housing.

Test for the presence of dust particles

To test for the presence of silica or dust particles the
grease was to be visually analyzed by use of a Figure 2.7: In the above image a brown and red
microscope to see if dust particles were present in colored particles were seen all over (40 x)
the mixture (dust particles are contaminants and are
detrimental to the life of bearings). The small
amount of grease retrieved from the bearing was
thinned out by use of a thinning agent (2K smart
blend automotive paint thinner); this thinned
mixture was then poured out onto filter paper and Figure 2.8: Sand/silica particles viewed on filter paper
left to dry. The following pictures were taken during at 100X magnification This Figure shows a fairly
the microscope inspection. large sand/silica particle next to the centre of the
cross, this particle measured 120μm in major

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dimension. It was viewed at 100 x magnification was viewed at 400 x magnification. This particle also
and had a light brown sand-like colour. had the exact colour of sand, being somewhat
transparent almost like glass, thus confirming that this
particle is in fact silica

Determining the shape/size of the wear particles

To determine the shape and size of the metal wear
particles in the grease it was needed to separate the
Figure 2.9: Another sand/silica particle captured on normal contaminants like sand from the metal
the filter paperviewed at 100X magnification The particles created inside the bearing. This was done by
figure shows another silica particle at 100 x thinning out the grease by use of the thinner as
magnification, but this particle had a major described in the above section, but this time instead of
dimension of 80μm. applying it to filter paper it was thrown over a piece
of glass with a strong magnet beneath it, thus allowing
the thinners and other particles to run down and only
the metal particles to remain grouped in the magnetic
field. The following pictures show the results.

Figure 2.10: A photograph of a dust particle on the

filter paper viewed at 400X magnification
This figure shows another dust particle (silica) with
a major dimension of 20μm, it was viewed at 400 x

Figure 2.12: Glass sheet containing the metal particles

separated by the magnet

Figure 2.11: A sand/silica particle viewed at 400X

magnification. The figure shows a pebble-shaped
silica particle with a major dimension of 25μm, it

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Inner joint gaps
The gaps between the two halves of the inner race are
to be between 0.4mm and 0.5mm on either side.

Load calculations

Figure 2.13: Metal chunks/slabs indicating bearing Speed 70rpm

Load (880/2) kg per bearing
pitting or metal fatigue, major dimension 300μm Shaft diameter 75mm
(40 x magnification)
Using the formulas from [2]:

Cr = radial load carrying capacity of bearing = 165KN

(from bearing data)
P = effective radial load = 880/2*9.81 = 4,316.4N

Fn = Speed factor = = 1.2493

Figure 2.14: Metal chunks/slabs indicating bearing
Fl = life factor = 4.4 → 5.0 for continuous operation
pitting or metal fatigue, major dimension 500μm
Fd service/dynamic factor = 1.3 → 2.0 for light shock
(40 x magnification)

Most of the particles seen in the above pictures are Then: = 4,316.4 x 1.2493 x 5 x 2

metal particles, this is due to the magnetic = 53,924.00 N

separation of the thinned out lubricant. The particles ≈ 54 KN
all have sharp and pointy edges, this is indicative of
Thus Cr >
aggressive wear.
The bearing is thus strong enough to carry the load.
*as a double check we can use the approximate load
Verification of SRB’s currently in use
carrying capacity given by the manufacturer website:
Detail calculations were done according to the
C = 33.5 KN for the given shaft size and speed, and
bearing manufacturer’s specification to determine
our load is less than 5 KN, thus this also confirms that
validity of the bearings used for the application in
the bearing will last.
the sewage plant at Middelburg. This calculation is
a complete description of all the aspects of the
bearing including tolerances and maintenance:
Shaft tolerance

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For a shaft of diameter 50mm → 80mm, speed x
diameter of less than 50,000mm and C r/Fr > 10
General maintenance overview
Cooper bearings specifies a shaft tolerance of h9,
This section examined the general installation
thus: 75(+0.00, -0.074) mm
methods practiced on the site. This has been done in
order too gain a broad enough overview of possible
activities which may result in the failures the plant has
been experiencing.
Grease type and maintenance
 Severely corroded shafts were found to have been
The mass of grease to be added initially is 180g. For
re-installed in other units where the bearings had
routine maintenance a grease mass of 4 grams is to
been replaced with new bearing units. See Figure
be added every 200Hr of operation.
Calculating the type of grease to be used:
 In some of the units, a visible gap (±1mm) was
Velocity factor = geometry factor x rpm in
present between the shaft and the seal. This can
thousands = 62.34 (from manufacturer) x 0.07
either be attributed to incorrect seal sizing, or to
= 4.364
the severely corroded and eroded condition of the
Operating temperature = 50°C or 120°F
shafts. See Figure 2.15
The temperature vs. velocity factor found in the
 Seal damage had also been noted in units being
cooper bearing charts indicated that the oil viscosity
repaired: Figure 2.16 shows a piece of pipe
of the grease used should at least be 460 cSt at
supporting the weight of the shaft on the sealing
40ºC. The grease currently being used (BP
faces, whilst being repaired.
Energrease LS3) has an equivalent viscosity of 100
 The possibility of lubricant contamination during
cSt at 40 ºC. This is much lower than the required
installation also exists, the unit in figure 2.16 had
minimum of 460 cSt.
been left unattended and already contained dust
particles and water.
This bearing will be operating in an environment
where contact with water is experienced. For this
application Cooper recommends that you use
Synthetic nitrile rubber single lip (SRS) seals to
retain the lubricant and keep the water out. The
shaft needs to have a surface finish of 0.8μm for
these seals to work correctly in this environment.
**Felt seals are not advised for situations where
moisture is present.

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Figure 2.15: Newely replaced bearing hac not been
operated yet

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excessive, this can be said due to the fact that the
control grease sample did not crackle at all. The only
way in which water could have entered the bearing is
if the seals failed to do their task or were the wrong
type of seal for the application.
By examining the pictures taken during the search for
the presence of dust particles revealed that there was a
substantial amount of dust present in the grease
samples. The dried filter paper had a brown colour,
like that of sand, and by inspection under the
Figure 2.16: A pipe being used to support the microscope silica particles were identified.
aerator shaft while the bearing is being replaced This shows that the grease did in fact contain
contaminating silica particles. These particles could
have found their way into the bearing in one of two
ways, firstly, they could have been accidentally added
by the operator when the unit was installed, or
The next section discusses the results of the tests
secondly they could have been ingested past the seals.
and observations mentioned in the method part of
The sheer amount of sand found inside the grease
this report.
indicated that it was most likely the seals that failed,
Detail grease analysis thus resulting in the ingestion of the contaminants
The purpose of the grease analysis was to observe from the muddy environment.
the presence of contaminating substances inside the The pictures taken during the search for metal
grease that could lead to the premature failure of the particles revealed that this bearing did contain large
bearing units was to be determined. The analysis amounts of wear debris; these particles had sharp
tested for three things, firstly the presence of water, edges and were relatively large compared to the sand
secondly the presence of dust/sand particles and particles, thus indicating that there was severe
thirdly the metal particles inside the grease were abrasive wear in the bearing unit.
analysed to determine what could have caused this These results show that excessive wear was present,
type of wear debris. this wear was most likely due to the contamination in
Firstly a test was performed in which the samples the grease acting as a grinding paste, but no further
were tested for the presence of water, the crackle comment can be made on overloading or temperature
test revealed that there was indeed water trapped effects due to the large amount of damage the bearing
inside the grease, no comment can be made as to the incurred.
amount of water in the grease but it is believed to

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Water entering the bearing unit will drastically reduce
Verification of SRB’s in use its load caring capabilities resulting in a reduced life
After completion of the detail calculations it can be expectancy.
seen that the bearings currently in use, when Slurry entering the bearing unit will result in
installed and maintained correctly, should be excessive wear, reducing the expected bearing life.
sufficient to supply the shaft with rotating ability for
many hours, far exceeding the six months that the
sewage plant’s bearings used to last in the past.

Lubrication Selection
The environment in which these bearings operate
The grease currently being used (BP Energrease
brings them into contact with relatively large amounts
LS3) has a viscosity (100 cSt at 40 ºC) much lower
of water which contains dust, dirt and other solid
than that specified by the OEM (460 cSt at 40 ºC),
particles which are detrimental to the rolling elements
thus effectively reducing the film thickness,
of the bearings. There are measures currently being
resulting in increased wear as the bearing would be
taken at the plant to reduce the amount of water
operating within the boundary condition.
entering the bearings from the dams but they are for
the most part ineffective; as shown by the grease
Problems with SRB’s when Considering
analysis where water, as well as sand particles was
found inside the grease, and therefore the bearing. The
The split type design of SRB’s requires the
second concern is the section of the aerator shafts
lubrication cavity too be opened during installation,
onto which the bearings are attached was found to be
resulting in the bearing internals & lubricants being
extensively corroded and eroded. The investigators
exposed too the elements.
feel it is noteworthy to discuss the maintenance
The split sleeve design of SRB’s require very
practices that take place on the water treatment plant
accurate shaft tolerances (h9), which can be quite
as this contributes greatly to the significant reduction
difficult to sustain during the maintenance life of
in bearing lifetime and performance. The erosion on
these bearings inside these corrosive environments
the shaft could have taken place after the bearing
failure which allowed the shaft to run on the seal
Shaft Sealing Problems
chamber for a certain amount of time thereby eroding
The selected felt sealing mechanism is by far not
both the shaft and the bearing housing severely. But it
ideal for slurry environments.
was also found that when the bearings are replaced,
No sealing can take place if the sealing interface is
the shafts are put back into service without being
damaged, in this case shafts damaged due to the
repaired. This causes extensive damage to the
corrosive environment and prior scaring.
bearings and the seals from the moment the aerator

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starts to work again and compounds the problem of of such a bearing is produced by SKF with the TR
water and particle damage because the seals cannot design for contaminated service and long design life
seal onto the shaft effectively. The seals that are [3]. This will allow a rougher surface tolerance on the
currently installed on the plant are felt seals and shaft as no seal will be in contact with it and when the
they do not perform adequately in water service and bearing is replaced, the sleeve will be replaced as
are therefore not recommended for application in well.
the treatment plant.
In section 2.5.4 Grease type and maintenance, it was ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
found that the grease that is currently being used for
the bearings does not have the correct viscosity at The management of the maintenance contractors
the required operating temperature and this allows where assisted us with our investigation
metal to metal contact between the parts of the
bearing, thereby severely reducing its’ life. If
however, the grease were to be changed to one with
a higher viscosity as specified in section 2.5.4, the
[1] www.greasemaxsa.com; 15 November 2008
load carrying capacity of the grease would be
sufficient and would greatly reduce bearing failures. [2] www.cooperbearings.com/tech03.htm; 14
November 2008
Another way to reduce the maintenance costs, as
well as the time spent for maintenance is to add an [3] www.SKF.com; 16 November 2008
automated greasing system as discussed in section [4]www.sascatoon.ca/org/water_treatment/wastewater
1.4. This will reduce demands on maintenance _treatment
personnel, allowing them to focus on other aspects [5] www.igus.co.za
of the plant and it will provide a more consistent
supply to grease to the areas that need them.
Due to the condition of the shafts (erosion and
corrosion) that were found in the water treatment
plant, it is difficult for the sleeve of the bearing to
be seated properly on the shaft and for the seals to
seal the bearings adequately from water and debris.
Therefore it would be beneficial to change the type
of bearings currently being used from SRB’s to Y-
bearings as specified in section 1.3.1 as this bearing
seals onto a sleeve which is attached onto the shaft
instead sealing onto the shaft itself. A good example

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