Tribology is the science and engineering of interacting surfaces in relative motion. It includes the study and application of the principles of friction, lubrication and wear. Tribology is a branch of mechanical engineering and materials science.
It was coined by the British physicist David Tabor, and also by Peter Jost in 1964, a lubrication expert who noticed the problems with increasing friction on machines, and started the new discipline of tribology.
The tribological interactions of a solid surface's exposed face with interfacing materials and environment may result in loss of material from the surface. The process leading to loss of material is known as "wear". Major types of wear include abrasion, friction (adhesion and cohesion), erosion, and corrosion. Wear can be minimized by modifying the surface properties of solids by one or more of "surface engineering" processes (also called surface finishing) or by use of lubricants (for frictional or adhesive wear).
Estimated direct and consequential annual loss to industries in the USA due to wear is approximately 1-2% of GDP. (Heinz, 1987). Engineered surfaces extend the working life of both original and recycled and resurfaced equipment, thus saving large sums of money and leading to conservation of material, energy and the environment. Methodologies to minimize wear include systematic approaches to diagnose the wear and to prescribe appropriate solutions. Important methods include:
- Point like contact theory was established by Heinrich Hertz in 1880s.
- Fluid lubrication dynamics was established by Arnold Johannes Sommerfeld in 1900s.
- Terotechnology, where multidisciplinary engineering and management techniques are used to protect equipment and machinery from degradation (Peter Jost, 1972)
- Horst Czichos's systems approach, where appropriate material is selected by checking properties against tribological requirements under operating environment (H. Czichos,1978)
- Asset Management by Material Prognosis - a concept similar to terotechnology which has been introduced by the US Military (DARPA) for upkeep of equipment in good health and start-ready condition for 24 hours. Good health monitoring systems combined with appropriate remedies at maintenance and repair stages have led to improved performance, reliability and extended life cycle of the assets, such as advanced military hardware and civil aircraft.
In recent years,[when?] micro- and nanotribology have been gaining ground. Frictional interactions in microscopically small components are becoming increasingly important for the development of new products in electronics, life sciences, chemistry, sensors and by extension for all modern technology.
Friction regimes for sliding lubricated surfaces have been broadly categorized into:
on the basis of the “Stribeck curve”. These curves clearly show the minimum value of friction as the demarcation between full fluid-film lubrication and some solid asperity interactions.
Stribeck and others systematically studied the variation of friction between two liquid lubricated surfaces as a function of a dimensionless lubrication parameter ηN/P, where η is the dynamic viscosity, N the speed (e.g. revolutions per minute of a bearing) and P the load projected on to the geometrical surface.
The “Stribeck-curve” has been a classic teaching element in tribology classes.
Duncan Dowson surveyed the history of tribology in his book "History of Tribology (2nd edition)". This comprehensive book covers developments from prehistory, though early civilizations (Mesopotamia, Egypt) and finally the key developments up to the end of the previous century.
Historically, Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) was the first to enunciate two laws of friction. (It was this connection that gave the name to the Leonardo Centre for Tribology, one of the UK's leading research centres on the subject.) According to da Vinci, the frictional resistance was the same for two different objects of the same weight but making contacts over different widths and lengths. He also observed that the force needed to overcome friction doubles when the weight doubles. da Vinci's findings remained unpublished in his notebooks.
Charles Hatchett (1760–1820) carried out the first reliable test on frictional wear using a simple reciprocating machine to evaluate wear on gold coins. He found that compared to self-mated coins, coins with grits between them wore at a faster rate.
The "Stribeck curve" or "Stribeck–Hersey curve" (named after Richard Stribeck, who heavily documented and established examples of it, and Mayo D. Hersey), used to categorize the friction properties between two surfaces, was developed in the first half of the 20th century. The research of Professor Richard Stribeck (1861–1950) was performed in Berlin at the Royal Prussian Technical Testing Institute (MPA, now BAM). Similar work was previously performed around 1885 by Prof. Adolf Martens (1850–1914) at the same Institute and in the mid-1870s by Dr. Robert H. Thurston  at the Stevens Institute of Technology in the U.S. Prof. Dr. Thurston was therefore close to establishing the “Stribeck curve”, but he presented no “Stribeck”-like graphs, as he evidently did not fully believe in the relevance of this dependency. Since that time the “Stribeck-curve” has been a classic teaching element in tribology classes.
The graphs of friction force reported by Stribeck stem from a carefully conducted, wide-ranging series of experiments on journal bearings. Stribeck systematically studied the variation of friction between two liquid lubricated surfaces. His results were presented on 5 December 1901 during a public session of the railway society and published on 6 September 1902. They clearly showed the minimum value of friction as the demarcation between full fluid-film lubrication and some solid asperity interactions. Stribeck studied different bearing materials and aspect ratios D/L from 1:1 to 1:2. The maximum sliding speed was 4 m/s and the geometrical contact pressure was limited to 5 MPa. (These operating conditions were related to railway wagon journal bearings.)
The reason why the form of the friction curve for liquid lubricated surfaces was later attributed to Stribeck, although both Thurston and Martens achieved their results considerably earlier, (Martens even in the same organization roughly 15 years before), may be because Stribeck published in the most important technical journal in Germany at that time, Zeitschrift des Vereins Deutscher Ingenieure (VDI, Journal of German Mechanical Engineers). Martens published his results “only” in the official journal of the Royal Prussian Technical Testing Institute, which has now become BAM. The VDI journal, as one of the most important journals for engineers, provided wide access to these data and later colleagues rationalized the results into the three classical friction regimes. Thurston however, did not have the experimental means to record a continuous graph of the coefficient of friction but only measured the friction at discrete points; this may be the reason why the minimum in the coefficient of friction was not discovered by him. Instead, Thurston's data did not indicate such a pronounced minimum of friction for a liquid lubricated journal bearing as was demonstrated by the graphs of Martens and Stribeck.
The term tribology became widely used following The Jost Report in 1966. The report said that friction, wear and corrosion were costing the UK huge sums of money every year. As a result, the UK set up several national centres for tribology. Since then the term has diffused into the international engineering field, with many specialists now claiming to be tribologists.
There are now numerous national and international societies, such as the Society for Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE) in the USA, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers' Tribology Group (IMechE Tribology Group) in the UK or the German Society for Tribology (Gesellschaft für Tribologie, www.gft-ev.de) and MYTRIBOS (Malaysian Tribology society).
Most technical universities have researchers working on tribology, often as part of mechanical engineering departments. The limitations in tribological interactions are, however, no longer mainly determined by mechanical designs, but by material limitations. So the discipline of tribology now counts at least as many materials engineers, physicists and chemists as it does mechanical engineers.
New Areas of Tribology
Since the 1990s, new areas of tribology have emerged, including the nanotribology, biotribology, and green tribology. These interdisciplinary areas study the friction, wear and lubrication at the nanoscale (including the Atomic force microscopy and micro/nanoelectromechanical systems, MEMS/NEMS), in biomedical applications (e.g., human joint prosthetics, dental materials), and ecological aspects of friction, lubrication and wear (tribology of clean energy sources, green lubricants, biomimetic tribology).
The study of tribology is commonly applied in bearing design but extends into almost all other aspects of modern technology, even to such unlikely areas as hair conditioners and cosmetics such as lipstick, powders and lipgloss.
Any product where one material slides or rubs over another is affected by complex tribological interactions, whether lubricated like hip implants and other artificial prostheses, or unlubricated as in high temperature sliding wear in which conventional lubricants cannot be used but in which the formation of compacted oxide layer glazes have been observed to protect against wear.
Tribology plays an important role in manufacturing. In metal-forming operations, friction increases tool wear and the power required to work a piece. This results in increased costs due to more frequent tool replacement, loss of tolerance as tool dimensions shift, and greater forces required to shape a piece. The use of lubricants which minimize direct surface contact reduces tool wear and power requirements.
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- Zum Gahr, Karl-Heinz (1987). Microstructure and Wear of Materials. Tribology Series, 10. Elsevier. ISBN 0-444-42754-6.
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