Basics of Tribology: The Guide for Tribotechnology


According to Sciencedirect, tribology is a science that studies the friction and wear of machine components and mechanisms. The results of the scientific activity of tribologists relate to the phenomena arising from the contact of two surfaces moving relative to each other. As a rule, the goal of tribological research and development is to reduce wear and prevent damage to rubbing surfaces by using appropriate lubricants and other methods. Tribology borders on such related disciplines as metal science, the strength of materials, physics, chemistry, etc.

What Problems to Solve?

Increased wear of parts in the joints in some cases violates the tightness of the working space of the machine (for example, in piston machines), in others, it violates the normal lubrication regime, in the third, it leads to a loss of the kinematic accuracy of the mechanism. As a result of wear, engine power decreases, the consumption of fuels and lubricants increases, the performance of compressors decreases, there is a possibility of leakage of poisonous and explosive products through the oil seals, the traction qualities of transport vehicles decrease, the control of aircraft and cars deteriorates (traffic safety decreases), productivity decreases, the accuracy and quality of processing of products on metal-cutting machines, etc.

The wear of the tool and the working bodies of the machines, in addition to the decrease in productivity, increases energy consumption.

The wear of the cylinder-piston group of the engine increases air clogging with exhaust gases: 100 worn-out cars pollute the air with exhaust gases like 125 new cars.

It is noteworthy that the mass of a mechanism or machine as they wear decreases slightly.

For example, a medium power car engine after complete wear has a weight loss of no more than 1% of the original, and a medium-duty truck – no more than 3 kg.

All of the above problems could be definitely solved by experienced engineers. For example, engineering research & development solutions at could contribute to solving your project problem. Feel free to contact an international engineering platform if you need help from a true specialist.

Tribotechnics and “Green Economy”

From a wide variety of sectors of the “green economy,” we would like to focus on the direction which is tribotechnics. What kind of science is this?

Tribotechnics is the science of contact interaction of solids with their relative motion, covering the entire range of issues of friction, wear, and lubrication of machines. In some countries, instead of the term tribology, tribonics is used.

It covers theoretical and experimental studies of physical (mechanical, electrical, magnetic, thermal), chemical, biological and other phenomena associated with friction, wears, and lubrication.

Losses from friction and the costs associated with them amount to 2-5% of the national product of countries, which cannot but have a significant impact on the development of the economy of any country. Friction largely determines energy losses during the operation of machines and mechanisms, absorbing up to 30-40% of all energy generated in the world.

Development of High-Tech Lubricants

These high-performance lubricants are synthesized under the guidance of tribologists. They replaced the oils made from animal hooves that were widespread a decade ago. Rolex is the only watch company that develops and manufactures its range of lubricants in a specialized laboratory. Each type of grease has a specific purpose and requires about ten years of research and development to produce it. Low viscosity lubricants are more fluid and are used for high-speed contacts such as an oscillator. High viscosity lubricants are denser and are used for impact points in the wheel system.

Wheel Mechanisms

The quantities of lubricant used are unusually small. According to rough estimates, the entire Swiss watch industry consumes only about 100 liters of special lubricant annually. Each Rolex movement has between 50 and 100 lubrication points, depending on the model. The amount of lubricant required for them is calculated in microliters. Since the tribologists got involved, every drop of grease is scientifically calculated and applied by experienced craftsmen using a precisely dose-calculating grease machine. Too much oil can lead to sticking or breaking of moving parts. Too little increases friction and wear.

But these are not all the criteria that are taken into account. The parts to be lubricated can be coated with nanometric coatings, called epilams, which alter the surface tension and hold the lubricant in place or a given area. Even the shape and curvature of a microscopic drop of oil is thought out to the smallest detail. For example, a purely spherical droplet can roll out of the gap between the rubbing surfaces, instead of acting as a buffer between them.

Exact Calculation

Sometimes some friction is desirable. Take, for example, the rotating bezel: its mechanics are thought out and coordinated down to the smallest detail. And the fluted bezel of the Sky-Dweller watches even the shape and geometry of the flutes are carefully studied: it should be such that the bezel is tenaciously gripped by the hand.

Tribologists have such a keen sense of precision that they talk not about the smoothness of the metal, but about its roughness, because they know that even a polished surface if viewed under an electron microscope, will not be at all as smooth as the naked eye sees or feels. Tribologists and satin-finished surfaces are analyzed to ensure that the watch does not rub off when worn.


About the author: Brian T. is a graduate of the Mechanical Engineering Faculty. He is technology and engineering writer and editor who writes on engineering news and blog topics for He brings into his reporting a wealth of experience in research and analytical writing.

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