EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Integrated Tribology

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Mechanical Engineering


The machines, products and devices all around us are full of moving parts; from the tiny read/write head in a hard drive, the prosthetic hip joint, the high speed train rail/wheel interface, the most powerful jet engine, to the giant gearboxes in wind turbines. It is the interacting surfaces in these moving parts where friction occurs and energy is lost. Lubrication is required to control friction and minimise the wear that causes premature failure. Selection of suitable rubbing materials and surface treatments helps to make parts last longer. Tribology is the science that encompasses the study of friction, wear, lubrication and surface engineering. It is a true underpinning technology behind developments in all industry sectors.

This proposal is for a Centre for Doctoral Training in Integrated Tribology (iT-CDT) to act as a training school and centre for research excellence in tribology. We have established a number of industrial partners who are prepared to make significant cash commitment to the Centre. They will benefit from a supply of highly trained PhD graduates, research focussed on their industry needs, as well as access to a pool of research on generic pre-competitive themes. The two universities are fully supportive of the bid and are providing studentships, staff time, and facilities. The total gearing proposed is £3.75M (45%) from EPSRC, £2.2M from industry (26%), and £2.4M (29%) from the universities.

Integrated Tribology

Integrated across disciplines - the nature of tribology is such that a multi-disciplinary approach is essential: physics of surfaces, chemistry of lubricants, material and surface treatment technologies, and engineering design. The iT-CDT plans to recruit PhD students and undertake PhD projects that span the disciplines of physics, chemistry, materials science and mechanical engineering.

Integrated across industrial sectors - tribology is an underpinning technology in all industry sectors. Many industries face the same generic problems (e.g. operating with thinning films, minimising and/or control of friction, fuel efficiency, reducing maintenance, extreme environments). The iT-CDT plans to integrate across sectors, sharing research expertise and common themes.

Integrated over the product life cycle - tribology is involved at all stages of a product lifecycle - from design, manufacture, maintenance, repair, through to disposal. The iT-CDT plans to have projects that span these stages of the lifecycle and to train students in the appreciation of the lifecycle and its sustainability.

Integrated across length scales - when surfaces rub together, atomic forces at the interface are responsible for friction and adhesion. The molecular structure of the lubricant and its chemical formulation provide protection. Interaction at this nano-scale governs performance at the macro-scale. The iT-CDT plans to integrate across length scales, combining analysis and methods from nano- to macro- in each project.

Integrated across technology readiness level - The iT-CDT plans to give students experience of the different types of research. The Centre's structure of mini-projects, research, and a final impact project will give scope for fundamental pre-competitive research, consultancy type problem solving, and application of research in an industrial environment, respectively.

Planned Impact

The impact of the Centre will be manifest itself in four ways; by the number and quality of skilled PhD graduates it produces, by the reach and significance of the research that is generated during their studies, by the contribution to the research base in tribology, and through the broader societal impact of improved machine efficiency and energy utilisation.

The number and quality of PhD graduates. iT-CDT plans, in the steady state, to graduate 12 PhD students per year. We expect these students to enter industry as research leaders or academia as RAs then lecturers. UK and EU industries are desperately short of PhD graduates, and they are in demand. We expect to have impact on UK industry with a stream of PhD graduates who will enter for example, the automotive sector (e.g. designing more fuel efficient engines), the rail sector (e.g. increasing network capacity and reducing cost through improved track and vehicle components), the oil industry (e.g. developing new lubricants for increased fuel efficiency), aerospace sector (e.g. tribology needs in jet engines), the power industries (e.g.developing and maintaining more efficient transmissions). PhD students may also commercialise technology or consultancy in the form of a spin-out activity. We have a track record of past PhD students achieving all these things. The iT-CDT plans to extend and broaden that record, will facilitate synergy across the discipline.

The transformative PhD research. During their studies, PhD students will be conducting research on an industry led project. These projects will also have elements of generic application therefore have wide impact. The students will be closely involved with both the sponsoring organisation and other industrial partners. This means that there will be a direct route for technology transfer.

Contribution to the Research Base in Tribology. The iT-CDT is a grouping of the two leading universities in tribology in the UK. It will form the largest critical mass of academics, RAs, and PhD students in the EU. A team of industrial partners will steer the research so that it is relevant and has real routes to impact. This platform will lead to a growth in the research base in tribology for the UK and will impact both industry, with improved products and processes, and academia with the supply of new technology and analytical methods.

Societal Impact. The development of new tribological processes, and engineers skilled in their conception and implementation, will have broader societal impact with machines and process that run with lower friction, higher energy efficiency and have greater durability. In the shorter term, we also plan as part of the iT-CDT for public engagement events using PhD students as the agents of delivery.


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