Tribology: The daily grind

Michael Anderson | TLT President's Report May 2018

How tribology really is everywhere.

Tribology is needed in everything, including brewing a cup of coffee, playing golf and starting your car.

No pun intended, well, yes, the pun is actually very intentional. In continuing the message in all my articles this year as president that tribology is everywhere, this article will talk about how tribology affects everyone’s daily lives.

This morning I tried to document how tribology impacts my life. After last night’s dinner party, I still had pots and pans to wash. A steel pad was employed to get off the most tenacious deposits of yesterday’s Arroz con Pollo. I thought a most practical tribological use of abrasive wear put to good use. I then cleaned the sink using kitchen cleanser or tribocleanser (September 2017 column titled Tribotools? Tribocleansers? Triboapparel?), which had all these little particles to help scour off stains and deposits. Another fine example of beneficial abrasive wear. With a sudden burst of energy, I decided it was time to clean and seal the slate in my downstairs bathroom. Now, interestingly enough, one of the ingredients was described as, “nanosized particles to penetrate below tough stains, dissolve and lift them out.” Whew, that was a lot of work, but over for a while.

Well, it was raining outside today, so I put on my shoes with the nubby rubber soles so that I would not slip on the steps walking to the car (February column titled Slipping and Sliding Away). Oh yes, because of engine oil, my car started right up and began to move quietly and effortlessly. With almost 70,000 miles, it continues to run fine because of the excellent tribological properties designed into the motor oil, hydraulic oil and grease (October 2017 column titled 4,000 Miles? Try 100,000). These products are used to make the vehicle run smoothly, quietly and efficiently. And hopefully for many more miles. And am I ever thankful for friction as I braked for the stoplight that suddenly just turned red and I was able to stop!

Back from the store with my groceries and some plants to put in the ground. My hand trowel was a little rusty from last year and proved difficult to push into the ground. I took a file and sharpened up the leading edge. Now wearing away the rust also sharpened the leading edge—and the shovel easily penetrated the ground—and, voila, I now have a patch of beautiful pansies. Again, here is wear and friction reduction.

My neighbor stopped by with her violin to play a song for me, and I realized it was the friction between the bow and the string making the pretty music. More tribology in action.

Now going back into the house, I noticed the door hinge squeaking. So a little penetrating oil sprayed there stopped the noise, and why not put some into the lock to keep it moving freely.

Back inside I had a taste for a cup of coffee. Wait a minute, before I can have a cup of coffee, I have to put the beans into a grinder. So, who would have thought that tribology is needed to brew a cup. Now that all the chores are done, I am going golfing (last month’s column titled Fore the Love of Tribology!). But we all know from last month’s TLT how tribology is involved in golf. 

So the next time you are doing your chores, driving or golfing, remember tribology makes them easier. And when you stop out for your coffee, you might want to refer to it as your “daily grind.” Wow, that tribology stuff really gets around. It’s everywhere!

Mike Anderson is area manager Asia Pacific/Latin America for Falex Corp. in Sugar Grove, Ill. You can reach him at