Tribology What is it?

Tribology allows us to better understand the wear processes of materials and ensures that components are designed with an optimum coefficient of friction. In this article, we explain what tribology is and what it is used for.

What is tribology?

It is the science that studies surfaces that interact in motion. Its name comes from the Greek, meaning “science of friction” and covers everything from wear, friction and lubrication to the design aspects related to all of these. Tribology, therefore, aims to study the frictional properties and wear behavior of surfaces in relative motion.

The field of tribology is interdisciplinary, consisting of a number of scientific and engineering disciplines. We can divide the subject into three interrelated branches: friction, wear and lubrication. Friction is understood as the resistance to movement between two surfaces in contact, which can ultimately lead to wear of materials, components and systems.

Tribology, however, prevents wear and controls friction through lubrication. The lubricant creates a protective film that reduces friction between the moving surfaces in contact.

Tribology and lubrication What is it?

Tribology uses lubricants to reduce friction, prevent wear, protect equipment from corrosion, control temperature and contamination, transmit energy and provide a fluid seal.

In addition to the well-known lubricants such as oil or grease, there are also solid lubricants that can be integrated directly into the material structure of components, providing a self-lubricating property.

A small amount of lubrication is sufficient to drastically change the friction between surfaces. In some cases a very thin film of lubrication is generated that adheres to the surfaces creating a low friction layer, known as boundary friction. Conversely, if the film is thicker and completely separates the two surfaces from each other, it is called fluid film friction, resulting in very low friction.

The effectiveness of a lubricant depends on its viscosity, which can change depending on the operating conditions, and the properties of the materials to which it is applied. Tribological science takes into account all variables to achieve, in this way, the balance between reducing sliding friction and too high a viscosity.

Industrial application of tribology

Traditionally, tribology is applied to the most common sliding components, such as bearings, gears, cams, brakes and seals. These components are used in a wide variety of machinery that requires some sliding or rotary motion. However, the initial focus has been broadened and extended to other areas, such as nanotribology, which studies tribological phenomena at the nanoscopic scale. Since the invention of atomic force microscopy it has emerged strongly, opening up a wide horizon of new applications.

On the other hand, as far as the transportation industry is concerned, traditional tribological research focused on reliability, but nowadays the focus has been shifting towards energy consumption and increased efficiency, resulting in more complex lubricants. For example, tribology can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by increasing energy efficiency.

Tribology also plays a key role in the materials manufacturing and development sector, especially in metal forming operations. Understanding the role tribology plays in the manufacturing process or in forensic engineering is essential, as it contributes to identifying failures, increasing productivity and reducing costs. There are also many other fields where tribology plays a fundamental role and is in full development, such as:

  • Green tribology, which is concerned with minimizing environmental impact by reducing tribological losses through the use of sustainable technologies.
  • Tribotronics, a facet of research that combines machine elements and electronic components to create active tribological systems and increase the efficiency and service life of machines.
  • Computational tribology, which models the behavior of tribological systems by combining several disciplines such as contact mechanics, fracture mechanics and computational fluid dynamics.

In short, tribology plays a fundamental role in industry, innovation and development. Similarly, tribological testing is essential in providing vital information on the failure mechanisms of mechanical components and their performance. Do you need to improve your industrial products? Don’t hesitate to contact the best team of forensic engineering experts.