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What is tribology?

Tribology concerns the application of science and engineering to the understanding of interacting surfaces in relative motion. In its modern usage tribology is taken to mean the study of any situation that involves friction, wear and lubrication. In reality, there are few situations which don't involve one or more of these. Just taking a few examples:

  • Without friction, we wouldn't even be able to stand up
  • Without wear processes, coastal erosion would not happen
  • Without lubrication, skiing would be a really dull sport!

Whether we realise it or not, tribology pervades our everyday lives. The act of choosing different footwear, or changing the tyres on our bicycles or cars depending on the weather, are just some examples of our innate understanding of the importance of friction. However, in manufacturing, in sports, in medical devices and implants, even in personal hygiene products, the understanding of tribology and its effects requires a rigorous application of scientific understanding and engineering practice.

Tribology represents a relatively new field of engineering, with the term having first emerged in the groundbreaking Jost Report (written by figures including Dr. Peter Jost OBE, the 'Father of Tribology' and Prof. Duncan Dowson, who went on to characterise elasto-hydrodynamic lubrication) that was published in 1966. However, it has undoubtedly grown into one of the most significant areas of fundamental research and development efforts, having been estimated to offer potential savings of 1.4% of GDP in developed economies such as the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Germany as well as, what was at the time, the developing economy of China. Put another way, investment in tribology may benefit the UK economy by over £20 billion pa in today's money.

While the economic arguments are easy to make for a greater focus on tribology, it's how these savings will manifest themselves that are perhaps of most interest to ordinary people. In making these savings, we can also significantly reduce our consumption of raw materials, energy and fuels, by making tools and components last longer and by making industrial processes more efficient, while also giving products that we use everyday more reliability and longevity.

We hope that you'll explore our website to learn more about us, to check out recent news and upcoming events in tribology, and to see just a handful of case studies which explain why greater investment in tribology is so vital to the UK. We also run a professional networking group on LinkedIn, and you can follow us on Twitter as well. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please don't hesitate to contact us. Please take a moment to view the video bellow which includes interviews recorded by the IET at the UK Tribology Launch event.