Introduction to Tribology

Traditional Applications

Tribology is the study of surfaces moving relative to one another, a phenomenon that affects our lives in a multitude of ways every day. The term tribology is based on the Greek word for rubbing and, although the term itself was not coined until 1964, there are images of tribology in action from as long ago as ancient Egypt, when early tribologists used oil to help facilitate sliding of large statues. Generally, tribology includes three key topics: friction, wear and lubrication. Friction is the resistance to relative motion, wear is the loss of material due to that motion, and lubrication is the use of a fluid (or in some cases a solid) to minimize friction and wear. The field is necessarily interdisciplinary and utilizes skills from mechanical engineering, materials science and engineering, chemistry and chemical engineering and more. Tribology is both technologically-relevant and scientifically-fascinating, and it's definitely an exciting time to be a tribologist!

Most mechanical component have one or more moving parts. This means that something is moving relative to something else, so there is tribology happening. In some components, such as bearings and gears, the goal is to minimize the resistance to sliding or rolling so that as little energy as possible is lost to friction. In other components, such as brakes and clutches, we want maximum sliding resistance in order to limit the relative motions.


There are also many manufacturing processes that rely on tribology, such as rolling, turning, stamping, grinding and polishing. Further, most transportation methods depend on tribology, not only within the mechanical components that drive them, but also at the contact between the wheels and the surfaces on which they slide or roll. There are also examples of tribology in construction and exploration equipment such as excavators, oil rigs, mine slurry pumps and tunnel digging drills. The processes of friction and wear, and the use of lubricants to control friction and wear are ubiquitous in a variety of industries.



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