August 10, 2011



Tribology is defined as the science and technology of interacting surfaces in relative motion and of related subjects and practices; it deals with every aspect of 1.) Friction, 2.) Wear, 3.) Lubrication and 4.) Adhesion.  This term is derived from the Greek word ‘tribos’ (τρίβοσ) meaning ‘rubbing’ or to rub.     Sliding and rolling components are commonplace with many mechanical and electromechanical devices.   These sliding and rolling surfaces represent the key to much of our technological society and understanding the tribological principals is essential for the successful design of machine elements. 

When two nominally flat surfaces are placed in contact with each other, surface roughness causes contact to occur at discrete contact spots; thus, interfacial adhesion occurs.   This occurance is commonplace for sliding and rolling contact–both experience the very same phenomen.

 Friction is defined as the resistance to motion, experienced whenever one sold body moves over another.  Wear is defined as surface damage or removal of material from one or both solid surfaces during moving contact.  Materials, coatings and surface treatments are used to control friction and wear with one of the most effective means resulting from proper lubrication, which provides smooth running and satisfactory life for machine elements.  Lubricants can be solid or gaseous depending upon the components in contact with each other.

  The goal of every designer is always to bring about the transmission of mechanical power with the lowest possible friction losses and with minimal wear of mating surfaces.   Even with this being the case we know that, on average, only one hour of instruction, over a four year curriculum, is taught to mechanical engineering students, relative to the subject.   


There is definitely an industrial significance for the understanding of tribology.  According to some estimates, losses resulting from friction and wear amount to approximately six percent (6%) of the GNP (Gross National Product) in the United States alone.  This amounts to $200 million per year.  It also has been estimated that approximately one-third of the world’s energy resources appear as friction in one form or another.  According to Dr. Peter Jost, the United Kingdom could save approximately £ 500 million pounds per year by employing better tribological practices.  A very similar classification of savings will exist for the United States.     There also is a definite cost benefit due to increased reliability; an improvement in meantime to failure (MTTF) and meantime between failure (MTBF) of moving parts.  It has been stated, again by Jost, that savings from properly lubricating the interface between moving members could possibly save billions of dollars over the lifetime of the moving mechanism. 

As you can see, the study of Tribology, for “enineering types” is critical to proper design and much much more emphesis should be placed on the technology during the educational process.

I look forward to any comments you have.



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