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Lesson 8

Introduction to Tribology

Tribology is defined as the science and

technology of interacting surfaces in
relative motion, having its origin in the
Greek word tribos meaning rubbing. It
is a study of the friction, lubrication,
and wear of engineering surfaces with
a view to understanding surface
interactions in detail and then
prescribing improvements in given

rub v. ,

with a view to
adv. ,
... ,

prescribe v.
, ,
( ),

The work of the tribologist is truly

interdisciplinary, embodying physics,
chemistry, mechanics,
thermodynamics, and materials
science, and encompassing a large,
complex, and interwinded area of
machine design, reliability, and
performance where relative motion
between surfaces is involved.

discipline n.


cs n.[ ]

embody vt.
, ,

encompass v.
, ,

Interwind v.

It is estimated that approximately onethird of the world's energy resources in

present use appear as friction in one
form or another. This represents a
staggering loss of potential power for
today's mechanized society. The
purpose of research in tribology is
understandably the minimization and
elimination of unnecessary waste at all
levels of technology where the rubbing
of surfaces is involved.


One of the important objectives in tribology

is the regulation of the magnitude of
frictional forces according to whether we
require a minimum (as in machinery) or a
maximum (as in the case of anti-skid
surfaces) . It must be emphasized, however,
that this objective can be realized only after
a fundamental understanding of the frictional
process is obtained for all conditions of
temperature, sliding velocity, lubrication,
surface finish, and material properties.

regulation n.
, ,

The most important criterion from a

design viewpoint in a given application
is whether dry or lubricated conditions
are to prevail at the sliding interface. In
many applications such as machinery,
it is known that only one condition
shall prevail (usually lubrication),
although several regimes of lubrication
may exist.

criterion n.
( )
prevail vi.
, ,

regime n.

There are a few cases, however, where it

cannot be known in advance whether
the interface is dry or wet, and it is
obviously more difficult to proceed
with any design. The commonest
example of this phenomenon is the
pneumatic tyre. Under dry conditions it
is desirable to maximize the adhesion
component of friction by ensuring a
maximum contact area between tyre
and road--and this is achieved by
having a smooth tread and a smooth
road surface.

proceed vi.

Adhesion n.

; ;
; ,

Tread n.

adhesion and cohesion

attractive forces between material bodies.
A distinction is usually made between an adhesive
force, which acts to hold two separate bodies
together (or to stick one body to another) and a
cohesive force, which acts to hold together the like
or unlike atoms, ions, or molecules of a single body .
However, both forces result from the same basic
properties of matter. A number of phenomena can be
explained in terms of adhesion and cohesion. For
example, surface tension in liquids results from
cohesion, and capillarity results from a combination
of adhesion and cohesion. The hardness of a
diamond is due to the strong cohesive forces
between the carbon atoms of which it is made.
Friction between two solid bodies depends in part
upon adhesion.

Such a combination, however, would

produce a disastrously low coefficient
of friction under wet conditions. In the
latter case, an adequate tread pattern
and a suitably textured road surface
offer the best conditions, although this
combination gives a lower coefficient
of friction in dry weather.


Disastrous adj.
; ;

disaster n.
, ,

Texture vi.

The several lubrication regimes which

exist may be classified as hydrodynamic,
boundary, and elastohydrodynamic. The
different types of bearing used today
are the best examples of fully
hydrodynamic behaviour, where the
sliding surfaces are completely separated
by an interfacial lubricant film.

Interfacial adj.

Boundary or mixed lubrication is a combination

of hydrodynanfic and solid contact between
moving surfaces, and this regime is normally
assumed to prevail when hydrodynamic
lubrication fails in a given product design. For
example, a journal bearing is designed to operate
at a given load and speed in the fully
hydrodynamic region, but a fall in speed or an
increase in load may cause part solid and part
hydrodynamic lubrication conditions to occur
between the journal and bearing surfaces.

This boundary lubrication condition is

unstable, and normally recovers to the
fully hydrodynamic behaviour or
degenerates into complete seizure of
the surfaces. The pressures developed
in thin lubricant films may reach
proportions capable of elastically
deforming the boundary surfaces of the
lubricant, and conditions at the sliding
interface are then classified as

recover vt.
Degenerate vt.
a. n.
seizure n.
, , ,

bearing seizure

Proportion n.
, ,
vt. /

It is now generally accepted that

elastohydrodynamic contact conditions
exist in a variety of applications
hitherto considered loosely as belonging
to the hydrodynamic or boundary
lubrication regimes; for example; the
contact of mating gear teeth.

adv. until this
time ,

loosely adv.

Solid lubricants exhibit a compromise

between dry and lubricated conditions
in the sense that although the contact
interface is normally dry, the solid
lubricant material behaves as though
initially wetted.

n. ,
v. , ,

This is a consequence of a physicochemical interaction occuring at the

surface of a solid lubricant lining
under particular loading and sliding
conditions, and these produce the
equivalent of a lubricating effect.

Lining n.
, ,

What is Tribology?
Tribology is defined as the science of interacting
surfaces in relative motion. The word tribology comes
from the Greek tribos, meaning rubbing. In any machine
there are lots of component parts that operate by rubbing
together. Some examples are bearings, gears, cams and
tappets, tyres, brakes, and piston rings. All of these
components have two surfaces which come into contact,
support a load, and move with respect to each other.
Sometimes it is desireable to have low friction, to save
energy, or high friction, as in the case of brakes. Usually
we don't want the components to wear so they are

The study of friction, wear, lubrication

and contact mechanics are all important
parts of tribology. Related aspects are
surface engineering (the modification of
a component's surface to improve its
function, for example by applying a
surface coating), surface roughness,
and rolling contact fatigue (where
repeated contacts causes fatigue to

When Two Surfaces Are Pressed

Surfaces may look smooth, but on a microscopic
scale they are rough. When two surfaces are
pressed together, contact is made at the peaks of
the roughness or asperities. The real area of contact
can be much less than the apparent or nominal
area. At the points of intimate contact, adhesion, or
even local welding, can take place. If we want to
slide one surface over the other then we have to
apply a force to break those junctions.

The Force of Friction

The friction force is the resistance
encountered when one body moves relative
to another body with which it is in contact.
The static friction force is how hard you have
to push something to make it, whilst the
dynamic friction force is how hard you push to
keep it moving. The ratio of the frictional force
F to the normal force W is called the
coeffiecient of friction and given the Greek
symbol m (pronounced mew).

Usually we want low friction (in a car

engine for example) so we do not waste
excessive energy getting it moving. But
in same case we need high friction, in
brakes for example. Friction is also
important for car tyres to grip the road
and between shoes and the ground for

Keeping the Surfaces Apart-Lubrication

If we put a layer of oil between the surfaces then we
can separate them and easily slide one over the
other with reduced friction and wear. Mineral oils are
the most common lubircants, but other low shear
strength materials are also used; for graphite, PTFE,
and soft metals like lead or gold.
The selection of the best lubricant and understanding
the mechanism by which it acts
to separate surfaces in a bearing
or other machine componment is
a major area for study in tribology.

When Things Wear Out

If one surface is slid over another then the
asperities come into contact and there is a
possibility that wear can occur. The breaking of
all the little junction can cause material removal
(called adhesive wear). Or the asperities of a
hard surface can plough grooves in a soft surface
(called abrasive wear).
Wear is usually unwelcome; it leads to increased
clearances beween moving components,
increased mechanical loading and maybe even
fatigue. But in grinding and polishing process the
generation of high wear rates is desirable.

As well as adhesive and abrasive wear, there

are other mechanisms whereby material can be
removed from a surface. Erosive wear occurs
when particles (or even water droplet) strike a
surface and break off a bit of the material. Hard
particles can become trapped in contacts and
cause material to be removed from one or both
of the surfaces. One of the main reasons for
frequent change of car engineoil is that it
becomes contaminated
with hard debris particles
that can wear out the
engine components.

Stress and Strain at the Contact

The design of rolling bearings and gears is such
that the load is supported on a small area. This
leads to high stresses (about the highest
stresses we find in any branch of engineering)
over small areas of the components. This can
cause high frcition, wear, and contact fatigue.
Contact mechanics is therefore an important part
of tribology.
The analysis of contact stress is frequently
difficult. Simple component geometries can be
analysed using hand calculations. More complex
component shapes frequently require analysis
by numerical methods

Tribology Down the Centuries

Early civilisations developed quite
sophisticated tribological devices such as
potters wheels, door hinges and wheeled
carriages. The carvings on the tomb at
Saqqara shows an Eygptian tribologist
bending down to lubricate the sled that
carries a statue of Ti (c. 2400 BC).

Military engineers rose to prominence in

the days of the Roman empire by devising
both war machinery and methods of
fortification, using tribological principles.
War ships (c. 50 AD) recovered from Lake
Nemi near Rome, contain broze balls and
rollers used to support rotating platforms

It was the renaissance engineer-artist,

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), celebrated
engineer, painter, and sculpter, who
discovered that the tangential force of friction
between moving solid bodies is proportional
to the normal force. His notebooks show
many designs for
moving parts and
machines that
show a remarkable
similarity to those
in use today

Several of the innovative designs

behind John Harrison's (1693-1776)
marine chronometers where based on a
tribological understanding of the moving
parts. He designed and build clocks that
required no lubrication. The properties
of oil could not be kept constant over
long periods of time or with climate
changes. So, the removal of the
requirement for lubrication allowed the
clocks to remain accurrate over sea
jouneys lasting many months.

The coming of the computer age has

provided new challenges for tribologists.
The interface between the reading head
and the magnetic disk in a computer
hard disk requires careful design and
lubrication to minimise
friction and reduce the
likelihood of disk
crashes and damage.

Want to Know More?

There are several excellent books on the subject of
tribology (take a look at our book list - especially the
undergraduate texts section).
We have put together a page of links to some of the
best web sites with a tribological flavour. This page
also included links to several professional bodies and
learned socities that represent the interests of
tribologists around the world.
The WWWTribology@Sheffield web pages contain
details of our research into a several aspects of
tribology especially wear and lubrication.
Or you may like to look at the Tribology of Machine
Elements Course that we teach to undergraduate
students at Sheffield.