Tribology savings fail to live up to promise

Thirty years research has not brought big benefits says expert

Promised savings equivalent to1.5% of GDP from improved knowledge of tribology – the science of wear and lubrication in machinery – have failed to materialise as research has become overly academic, an expert believes.

Only a tenth of the savings predicted 30 years ago have been achieved, according to a lecture to be delivered at next week’s first World Tribology Congress, organised by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, in which consultant Mike Neale will call for research to be refocused on the needs of industry.

‘One of the problems in the last 20 years is that tribology has become a very academic subject with research focused on the minutiae. There is not anything like enough research into the real problems of industry,’ Neale, chairman of Neale Consulting Engineers, told The Engineer.

Tribology, the study of surfaces in relative motion, was first identified as a separate subject in a 1966 report to the Department of Education and Science by H Peter Jost. He said industry could save 1.5% of GDP through better tribology. But 10 years later it was estimated that just 0.15% of savings had been achieved. Other studies around the world have produced similar figures.

Neale suggested that the way forward is to identify specific problems and opportunities which could benefit from research in sectors of industry where there is scope for ‘an improvement in market strength’.

There is also ‘tremendous scope for comparing performance of machines in service’, he said.