Tribometer or tribotester is a generic name for a device which is used to measure friction force developed between surfaces in a relative motion. Tribometers are typically also used to measure or at least qualitatively observe wear of the materials. The first tribometer was invented by Leonrado da Vinci – the first tribologist. It is schematically shown in the figure below.

First tribometer of Leonardo da Vinci

Since tribological problems are present in almost any field of engineering, a wide range of tribometers are in use to mimic all kinds of situations encountered in the real life applications as listed below.

Types of tribometers

On this page we collected the following most common types of tribometers:

  • Four Ball Tester
  • Pin on Disc
  • Ball on Disc
  • Fretting tester
  • Four ball tester
  • Biotribometers
  • Dry sand rubber/wheel abrasion test
  • Reciprocating Sliding Friction and Wear test
  • Tribocorrosion test systems
  • Air Jet Erosion Tester
  • Vacuum Tribometer
  • Low temperature Tribometer
  • High temperature Tribometer
  • Micro/nano Tribometers
  • Falex Pin & Vee Block Test

Pin on Disc/Ball on Disc

Pin in Disc tribometers are probably most known and extensively used devices in tribology. It consists of a stationary pin and a rotating disc. Pin is loaded by a dead weight or actively controlled systems. Pin can have different shapes, flat, triangular, or spherical. The latter case it is called ball on disc test. Schematically, the pin on disc (actually ball on disc) set up is shown in the figure below.

pin on disc tribometer
Schematic of a pin on disc tribometer

Four Ball Tester

The tester can perform both Wear Preventative (WP) and Extreme Pressure (EP) analysis. Three balls are brought together in a clamped fashion. The fourth ball sits on top of the three balls and rotates for a fixed period of time. The load on the 4th ball can be varied.

In Wear Preventive (WP) tests the average scar diameter on the bottom three balls is reported. The size of the scar shows the ability of the lubricant to prevent wear. Loads applied during wear tests, produces circular wear scar on each ball and the average wear scar diameter is determined for comparison. Wear scar diameter on the steel balls are measured using an image acquisition system.

In Extreme Pressure (EP) tests the lubricant is subjected to load that is increased in specified steps after every run. The load is increased continuously till a load is reached where the lubricant fails. Welding of the bottom three balls to the top ball indicates failure of lubricant. The load at which welding occurs represents extreme pressure property of the lubricant.

The normal load, friction force, and temperature can be monitored using Windows-based Data Acquisition Software.

See YouTube video.

Reciprocating Sliding Friction and Wear test

The Reciprocating Sliding Friction and Wear test can be used to measure average coefficient of friction (COF) and wear. It is possible to perform dry and lubricated tests. Different types of contact geometries are possible such as Ball-on-disc, ball-on-plate, cylinder-on-disc, cylinder-on-plate and disc-on-disc. Load, Frequency, Stroke length and Temperature can be varied according to requirements.

High Frequency Reciprocating Rigs can be useful to perform measurements with diesels, low viscous lubricants and additives.

See YouTube video.


Bio Tribometers are used to mimic situations encountered in biological environments such as artificial joint replacements. Behavior of the materials used in these devices can be tested (in accelerated manner) with such tribometers. Materials like UHMWPE, Al2O3, Polycarbonate urethanes (PCU),Ti-6Al-4V are used to replace acetabular cup, femur head, meniscus and tibia (epiphysis), respectively. Lubricant materials like hydrogels based phospholipids and animal derived hyaluronic acids are used as injectable lubricant supplements for knee and hip joints.

See YouTube video.

Dry sand rubber/wheel abrasion tester

Dry sand rubber/wheel abrasion test is one of the most widely used abrasion testing method. Low-stress scratching abrasion is simulated in the test by trapping a stream of free-falling abrasives between a wear specimen and a rotating rubber coated wheel. The wear is usually determined by weight loss. A wide range of materials can be tested for example; metals, ceramics, plastics, composite materials and coatings.

See YouTube video.

Falex Pin & Vee Block Tester

The Falex Pin & Vee Block Test Machine is a laboratory tool for evaluating wear, friction and extreme pressure properties of materials and lubricants. A steel journal is locked in place with a brass pin. Two V-blocks surround the journal while it rotates. The blocks apply increased pressure over time. The wear on the blocks can be measured to determine how much of the block was worn away.

See YouTube video.

Timken Tester

In this apparatus a ring (‘test cup’) rotating at 800 [rpm] is pressed against a stationary slab (‘test block’) in the presence of the lubricant tested. The test is conducted for ten minutes at successively higher loads until ‘OK’ and failure loads are determined. The ‘OK’ is the highest standard load at which the spinning bearing race produces no scouring mark on the test block, but only a uniform wear scar.

See YouTube video.

High Temperature Tribometer

High Temperature Tribometers are used for analysis of friction and wear properties at elevated temperatures, as high as 1200-1500oC. This kind of tribometers generally use a furnace or insulated chamber equipped with heating coils to obtain high temperatures. See the video below.

Low temperature Tribometer

Low temperature Tribometer are used for analysis of friction and wear properties of materials at very low temperatures 0 to -50oC. These are generally used for testing materials used in space applications or for very low temperature regions (pipelines in polar regions eg. Siberia). These kind of tribometers generally use liquid nitrogen or liquid helium to cool the interface.

Vacuum Tribometer

Vacuum Tribometer are designed to provide controlled vacuum conditions (10E-7 mbar) for friction and wear studies. Some of the tribometers are equipped with heating devices to perform tests at high temperature.

See YouTube video.

Micro Tribometer

Used for Micro-tribology. Micro Tribometer allows the use of small forces on test samples. It tribological analysis of soft materials, such as contact lenses, cartilage, skin etc.

Nano Tribometer

Used to investigate tribological properties of a wide range of surfaces and interactions at atomic level.

See YouTube video.

Scratch Test Instrument

Scratch test instrument is a simple for evaluating adherence characterization and scratch resistance for thin coatings and bulk materials. A stylus with well-defined tip geometry is moved over a specimen surface with load until failure occurs at critical load or loads.

See YouTube video.

Taber Abraser Tester

Taber Abraser test is used for measuring the abrasive wear resistance of a material. Test specimens are cut in shape of a disc. Then the specimens are placed on the turn-table and are subjected to rubbing action of a pair of rotating abrasive wheels at known weights.

See YouTube video.

Air Jet Erosion Tester

Used to test materials, coatings, surface treated parts under erosive environment/conditions. The test sample is subjected to a high speed stream of abrasive particulate gas for a certain duration and after test completion, the sample is checked for wear. The result of the test is reported as the loss of weight of the sample.

See YouTube video.

Water/Slurry Jet Erosion Test

Similar to air jet erosion test.

See YouTube video.

Tribocorrosion test systems

Used to test tribocorosion. Reciprocating tribometers are modified and are incorporated with electrochemical test set-up to study of the simultaneous action of sliding and corrosion.

Fretting Tester

Fretting is a specific wear type which is characterized by low amplitude oscillating sliding between bodies, which are nominally at rest [1] (for example due to vibration, cyclic stresses, etc). The amplitude of sliding may vary from tens of mircons (in bolted joints, electrical contacts) to tens of nanometers (in MEMS). Fretting tribometers are therefore specific machines designed for low amplitude reciprocating motion.


  1. Bhushan, Bharat. “Chapter 12: Friction and Wear Screening Test Methods.” Springer Handbook of Nanotechnology. Berlin: Springer, 2006.
  2. Stachowiak, Gwidon W., Andrew W. Batchelor, and Grazyna B. Stachowiak. “Chapter 3: Tribometers.” Experimental Methods in Tribology. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2004
  3. RTEC Instruments,
  4. Koehler Instrument Company,
  5. Ducom Instruments, Test Instruments
  6. ST Instruments
  7. Bruker
  8. Nanovea,