EU Open Innovation Test Bed for Tribology

Ever-growing customer demands lead to tougher material requirements. New high-performing materials and surface treatments become available every week with properties which were thought impossible. However, replacing the material of a machine component comes at a risk. In fact, even when the material properties look ideal in the catalogue, it is difficult to predict the actual component’s performance in the field. This becomes even harder when predicting system properties such as friction, leakage, and wear.

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Figure 1. Crankshaft, bearings, conrods, pistons, piston rings, crosshead, cylinders, valves, transmission chain, cam-shaft, cam-follower, cooling system, lubricant, grease, flywheel, lip seals, gasket.

Anyone who has had contact with tribology acknowledges that nothing is black or white and “it depends”. The great number of variables that influence the coefficient of friction and wear rate of a machine component makes its characterization truly challenging. In fact, if we would measure the coefficient of friction between two surfaces, one in Japan and the other one in UK, the results woud most likely be different. Variables such as velocity, surface finish, sample batch, flatness, humidity, loading, flatness, alignment, setup stiffness, operator, temperature, storing conditions, running-in, sampling rate, signal acquisition, signal filtering and calculation method (just to cite some), make tribological measurements difficult to compare to any other measurement. Together with the lack of standards, tribological studies are generally read in a qualitative instead of quantitative way (e.g., “higher velocity leads to less friction”). Up to the date, each tribological testing centre has developed its own testing equipment and internal practices making the comparison to any external results extremely complex.

Argonne's Tribology Lab: High-Vacuum Tribometer | This test … | Flickr

Figure 2. Custom-made High-Vacuum Tribometer in Tribology lab.

Besides the complexity of measuring system variables, e.g. friction and wear rate, the correlation between the actual machine performance (component level) and the tribotest results (model level) is far from straightforward. It is well-known that selecting a tribometer that mimics the conditions occurring in the real application is key to reach meaningful insights. In short, pin-on-disk results often lead to interesting correlations but these may have nothing to do with the real application. Once again, there are no standards for selecting a tribometer or another for a specific application. In the past, efforts have been made to standardize the field of tribology. However, these efforts were limited to small collectives and lacked the momentum to make these initiatives widely adopted by the tribology community. The resources and collaboration required for this quest spans beyond private initiatives.

A window of opportunity opened for the field of tribology in 2018: the Open Innovation Test Bed (OITB) EU Call. Open Innovation Test Beds (OITB) are entities offering access to physical facilities, capabilities and services required for the development, testing and upscaling of materials in industrial environments. A group of public and private organizations joint forces to develop a tribology-dedicated OITB: i-TRIBOMAT.


Figure 3. i-TRIBOMAT & The European Tribology Centre (ETC).

i-TRIBOMAT (EU Horizon 2020 No. 814494) is a project funded with the aim of building an Open Innovation Test Bed (OITB) for tribological material characterization. The purpose of i-TRIBOMAT is to reduce costs and time-to-market when upgrading machine components with novel materials. i-TRIBOMAT offers tribological characterization services, data-driven services, and models for predicting the performance of the industrial components from lab results (“Lab-to-Field”).

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Figure 4. The i-TRIBOMAT consortium.

Together, the consortium already counts with +100 different tribometers and a database with +10.000 tribological materials testing results. OITBs are thought to eventually become self-sustainable enterprises and i-TRIBOMAT is no exception. During the fourth and last year of i-TRIBOMAT’s project (i.e. 2022) the European Tribology Centre (ETC) will be founded.

The ETC is a joint venture of the largest tribology testing centres in Europe (AC2T, BAM, VTT and TEKNIKER) to step up the industry level in friction, wear, and lubrication. The ETC is deemed to become one of the references in material and tribology testing worldwide.

Figure 5. i-TRIBOMAT infographic.

i-TRIBOMAT enters its final year in January 2022 and an Open Call for Early Adopters was announced at the 150 years of BAM event: Tribologie mit Wirkung – Wie Digitalisierung Tribologie für die Industrie nutzbar macht.

Stay tuned to i-TRIBOMAT media channels if you or your company is willing to take part in the Open Call for Early Adopters 2022!

Industrial Engineer with focus on Tribology and Sealing Technology. Team player with an open-minded mentality author of several scientific publications and an industrial patent. Interested in Lean Management, Innovation, Circular Economy, Additive Manufacturing and Connected Objects Technology.

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