2017 STLE Emerging Trends Report

Dr. Robert M. Gresham, Contributing Editor | TLT Lubrication Fundamentals October 2017

The updated edition provides market-by-market analysis for industry managers, researchers and lubrication engineers.

© Can Stock Photo / chesky

PREVIOUSLY I’VE WRITTEN THAT STLE was working on an update of its 2014 Emerging Trends Report. The update builds on the strengths of that first report and corrects some of its weaknesses. 

This time around more than 900 professionals from around the globe responded to the survey. Data taken from the survey was compiled and shared with about 30 renowned industry experts for clarification and context. The information was then divided into two key categories: Field Discipline, which is concerned more with the technical aspects of trends, and Field Issues, which is concerned with factors that can affect our industry and those who work in it. Further, in both categories an effort was made to try to identify whether a given trend is likely to be long or short term. 

This work is now complete, and the report is available on www.stle.org

Some of the key findings in the report validate trends previously identified in the 2014 report, and some provide insight into shifts in emphasis. As one reads the report, it becomes clear that some of the technical issues overlap into both the Field Discipline and Field Issues areas. It further is clear that tribologists and lubrication engineers will have plenty of work to do in the future, but that work in some cases will look very different than in the past.

For example, looking at the Transportation Field, development of pure electric (and hybrid) vehicles will be a long-term trend, as will development of self-driving, autonomous vehicles and, of course, higher and higher efficiency vehicles regardless of the means of propulsion. Thus, the key trend for transportation is greater operational economy and, of course, reduced emissions. (Editor: For an analysis of the electric versus hybrid car market, see Ed Becker’s Auto Tribology column here.)

Clearly overlapping with transportation is the Energy Field, where the long-term trend is reduced use of fossil fuels and, in turn, more-efficient, less-polluting use of these fuels. Further, development of economically viable and renewable energy sources will continue for the future as dictated by political, social and economic factors.

Also overlapping is the Manufacturing Field, where the focus is more on automation and recycling. However, automation in manufacturing overlaps with self-driving autonomous vehicles. In both, the ability to monitor the functions of machines will be a critical technology to assure safe, accurate operation as well as less down time, better reliability and increased output—all with improved energy efficiency and reduced emissions.

An important technical problem to overcome, which affects the success of all three of the above areas, is better understanding what we are learning at the nano-scale and applying that insight to large-scale systems. It becomes critical that we fund research in academia and develop a pipeline of young talent into our field to solve this problem.

These are the major topic areas that will influence the careers of most of the world’s tribologists and lubrication engineers, recognizing that different geographical areas and national governments will shift emphases. However, there are other filed disciplines that also have overlapping influence. For example, the Communications and Data Management Field involves the ability to apply sensors for monitoring both lubricants and moving parts in real time through cloud-computing techniques. This will be a critical technology for autonomous vehicles and manufacturing equipment as well as energy usage management and pollution control.

Finally, the Medical/Health Field is faced with an aging population in some parts of the world and a growing population in other parts. The growth of the aging population is in part due to better nutrition and health care as well as lower fertility rates. This leads to longer working life and better quality of life as well as longer life expectancy. Tribologists will need to help develop better and longer-lasting artificial joints, prosthetics and mobility aids. The growth in world population, especially from so-called emerging nations, will create a demand for more energy, food and clean water—all of which create challenges for tribologists with emphasis on sustainability and the reduction of waste.

I have just touched on some of the key overriding issues covered in the STLE 2017 Emerging Trends Report, which is why I recommend that you download the full report at www.stle.org. For industry managers, the report will help you make decisions about funding and direction of research, staffing, product line development, etc. For academics, the report will help with grant proposals and research directions. Finally, for practitioners of our industry, the updated report offers guidance on how to interact with the various industry sectors and plan for upcoming political, social and regulatory influences.

All in all, a most informative piece of reading well worth your time. Did I mention that it’s free?

Bob Gresham is STLE’s director of professional development. You can reach him at rgresham@stle.org.