Tribotronics: A merger of Tribology and Electronics

Tribotronics is a term coined by The Division of Machine Elements at Lulea University of Technology. Tribotronics in simple terms mean developing an active tribological system or converting a passive tribological system in to an active one. Tribotronics is still a concept and requires a lot of research and development before it can be brought into practical applications. [1][2][3][4]

Tribotronics can be referred to as an advanced tool/method of predictive maintenance. Predictive maintenance involves regular monitoring of indicators of machine condition, which provides the data which can be used to predict when maintenance should be performed. Tribotronics is an integration of Tribology and Electronics. It employs a sensor that monitors the tribological parameters of a system in real-time that helps in determining the actual state of the system. [1][2][3][4]

A Tribotronic system consists of four main components:

  1. Sensors: Extracts tribological data about the condition of the system and transmits it to the central processing unit.
  2. Central processing unit (CPU): Tribological data received from various sensors is processed by software’s in real time and a solution to the problem in the form of output is sent to actuators.
  3. Actuators: Implements the solution received from central processing unit
  4. Computer: Allows the user to view and control the adjustments or solutions made by the Trbotronic system.
Fig.1. Main components of a Tribotronic system

In order to understand the working of Tribotronic system, consider a piston sliding against cylinder wall. The sensors will look for friction or wear loss (which can be in the form of material loss or weight loss) at the interface of piston and cylinder wall contact. This data is picked up by sensors and processed by a CPU. Depending on the results, the CPU can actuate lubricant injectors using tribo-actuators to dispense lubricant at the interface to reduce friction or wear. The CPU can calculate quality of lubricant required for the particular interface in order to maintain existing lubrication regime and also can re-introduce additives in case of additive depletion in a lubricant.

A more practical example has been referred by Sergei Glavatskih and Erik Hoglund in their paper “Tribotronics—Towards active tribology”. The authors depicts the use of a micro-heater which acts as a tribo-actuator for providing “on-demand” lubrication in space applications when friction between tribo-contacts increases. [2]

A Tribotronic system helps in reducing inspection costs as causes/conditions leading to failure are predicted earlier via electronic sensors and systems. The technology focuses on automated sensors and data processing units which helps in reducing labor costs. Failure of machine components reduces which leads to decrease in equipment cost and down time. [1][2][3][4]

Tribotronics is the future of maintenance. Proper data on friction and wear of mechanical components will help in improving the life and reliability of the entire machine. Further research and development can help in decreasing tribological failures in machines. [1][2][3][4]

References:

  1. Buzzword of the day: Tribotronic, https://www.newscientist.com/blog/technology/2007/08/buzzword-of-day-tribotronic.html
  2. Glavatskih, Sergei, and Erik Höglund. “Tribotronics€ – Towards Active Tribology” Tribology International 41.9-10 (2008): 934-39.
    • Adachi K, Kato K. Reliable design of space system in tribology viewpoint. In: 22nd international symposium on space technology and science, 2000, p. 593–8.
    • Adachi K, et al. Micro-system of lubrication with in-situ tribocoating for space mechanisms. In: International tribology conference, Kobe 2005
  3. Liu, Ying, Simiao Niu, and Zhong Lin Wang. “Theory of Tribotronics.” Advanced Electronic Materials 1.9 (2015): 1500124
  4. Real-time lubricant ageing analysis: first step towards a Tribotronic system, Prashant Rana https://www.studentapan.se/product/detail/91347/essay/
  5. Diagram has been made by the writer
  6. Featured images used are free for commercial use and are taken from pixabay.com

HARSHVARDHAN SINGH
About HARSHVARDHAN SINGH 19 Articles
Harshvardhan Singh is an Automotive Engineer and has good experience in lubrication science and experimental tribology. He loves to write about tribology and related fields such as coating technology, surface engineering and others.

8 Comments

  1. thank you readers for your support, more than 400 views in less than 24 hours. Great !!!!

  2. Harsh, two fundamental concept comments regarding the notion of “tribotronic” systems in mechanical engineering, but first, an apology to the Division of Machine Elements at Lulea University of Technology.

    My first comment (which is oddly related to my earlier exchange with Aydar regarding belt/pulley CVT technology), is that the notion of “tribotronic” is founded upon the misconception that more lubricant or more AW/EP additive will fix the problem once a “sensor” tells a CPU a tribological problem exists in the machine. The sad reality is, once the problem is reported, it’s already too late!

    My second comment is that these “tribotronic” systems already exist. For illustrative purposes, I’ll discuss the Eaton “Advanced Oil Debris Monitoring System” on the GE90 turbofan engine. This is a popular engine on Boeing 777 aircraft.

    I believe this concept is also present in the Hamilton Sundstrand “VSCF (Variable Speed Constant Frequency) Oil Servicing System” found on the VSCF generators of Rolls-Royce Trent 800 turbofans; the other popular engine found on Boeing 777 aircraft. As I understand it, both report (electronically) to the “EICAS (Engine Indication Crew Alerting System” that trouble is afoot!

    The results of such an oil debris indication can be either (as named in the Article) “passive” or “active”.

    On the passive side, the pilots receive a message indicating that the oil debris sensors have detected a tribological problem/failure in the engine. The (human) pilot then begins to decide whether or not to begin the checklist for the event, or be smart and immediately look for the nearest appropriate airport to land at. As first stated, and as will soon be evident, in the real world, no amount of additional AW/EP EHL ” fix” is going to change the fact that the damage has already occurred.

    On the “active” side, a triggered oil debris indication results in an immediate and involuntary “uncommanded” IFSD (In-Flight Shut Down) of the affected engine. The notion being (a reflection of the reality) that the irreparable damage has already occurred, and care must now be taken to minimize the resulting misery.

    Again -strangely- this goes back to my earlier point with Aydar regarding the failure of the AW/EP lubrication concept as a whole. In this real world scenario, the addition of more AW additives (easily accomplished if it had been desired by the engine designers) is not even an option.

    The new tribological paradigm is ISN’s permanent removal of damage-causing asperities, not the continued failed methods of attempting to coat the imperfections with AW or lubricity-enhancing additives. As said, the example of “tribotronics” above clearly illustrates that once the “sensor” reports the tribological failure, it’s already too late. The ISN paradigm shift illustrates that the new goal of tribology must be perfection of the friction surfaces so as to prevent the tribological failure scenario in the first place.

    I ask you, which airplane would you prefer to fly on; the one with a highly-advanced active tribotronic system (at the ready to shoot more goo at any problem that comes along), or a plane whose engines contain ISN technology removing and polishing asperities with every revolution of their turboshafts?

    • Rick, you posted your new post in the comment section 🙂 . On a serious note, ISN Technology looks to be superior than Tribotronics, I’ll try to fetch some more information about it. I agree that there are some more examples of tribotronics that already exist, but I wrote the one which even non-technical audiences can understand.

      • “Rick, you posted your new post in the comment section 🙂 .”

        Yes, sorry Harsh. I should have extended my initial apology beyond Luleå to you as well! 🙂

        The good, however, in the Luleå “tribotronics” misconception is the desire to design tribology into systems on a first-principles basis. This is the true future of tribology as an engineering discipline. We as tribologists must remember that our science is not to be used as an afterthought or “fix” for others’ poor engineering, but to be incorporated into sound engineering designs ab initio as an integral part thereof.

        ISN’s promise to engineering (through nanopolishing’s surface perfection) is to complete the machining of the interacting surfaces where traditional methods have previously been unable. This is the nature of the paradigm shift. The notion of “tribotronics” is in fact, a step backwards for the discipline as a whole.

  3. Not all tribological solutions are aiming in reduction of friction. Some need control, as for example, in mentioned CVTs, but also in precision mechanics, like in AFM positioning stages or all kinds of positioning stages. So tribotronics may be helpful there!

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