Early detection of contact distress for enhanced performance monitoring and predictive inspection of machines

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Faculty of Engineering & the Environment


Monitoring the health of tribocontacts requires the study of friction, tribofilm integrity, and wear transitions. These challenge experimental tribologists to develop accurate methods for in-situ measurements and ideally continuous monitoring. Indirect measurements such as friction changes, sudden heating, changes in vibration or debris in the oil can detect severe wear transitions but cannot detect the subtle mechanistic changes which occur in unhealthy evolution of the contact. However, surface charge generated by tribocontacts and measured by single macro sensors, has detected tribological features such as tribofilm chemistry, adhesive wear, abrasive wear, phase transformations and wear debris but over large surfaces areas. This proposal, therefore, will miniaturise existing sensing technology, with embedded electronics to overcome signal to noise issues, and use arrayed sensors for augmented sensing, and machine learning. The sensor array /learning system would be trained to detect early evidence of lubricated contact decay from charge maps of the surface and allow better prediction of remaining useful life or, what corrective adjustment is needed in running conditions, to assure operational integrity.

Planned Impact

Our plan to deliver industrial, academic and societal impact includes the following actions.

ECONOMIC IMPACT: We will pro-actively grow our pool of partners through the course of the grant by engaging with relevant networks within Knowledge Transfer Network Ltd, the UK Tribology (including IMechE, IoP, IoM3, IET and RSC) and this project will benefit from a unique University of Southampton initiative called Future Worlds (futureworlds.com) which is a vibrant network for connecting academic researchers with external collaborators and investors. A Stakeholder Steering group will be formed of industrial partners will help with effective dissemination of the latest findings to key industrial sectors. Workshops will be held at Southampton and synergy sought between the two RAEng Visiting industrial chairs to nCATS (Prof Honor Powrie from GE and Prof Walter Holweger from Schaeffler.

SOCIETY IMPACTS: Tribology spans fundamental science through engineering to real-world applications and this project provides an exciting opportunity to showcase the value of such research and to engage the next generation. The material understanding will be promoted via website and promotion brochures etc. Showcase events will be arranged to link to a wide range of conferences covering machine learning, condition monitoring, sensors and tribology. Outcomes will be used at Bringing Research to Life roadshow (reaching some 20,000 people annually) and the Winchester Science Centre. We will also work with the Public Policy@Southampton team to help researchers reach and influence key policy makers to press home the message that understanding tribology enables companies to save of energy costs and reduce emissions as well as enable new product designs based on smart machines. In addition during National Science and Engineering Week public lectures will be given.

KNOWLEDGE IMPACT: We will publish our work in the highest quality academic journals as well as present our work at seminars and at the major international conferences. Our contacts will act as advocates for the research in their various communities. The project would also inform the ISO standard ISO 13374 on Machinery CM & Diagnostics.

PEOPLE IMPACT: Academic and research staff will learn from the multidisciplinary collaborations and joint working embedded within each work package design. Researchers will be offered specific placement opportunities with the industrial collaborators. PDRAs and PhDs will join the vibrant research community at Southampton which includes targeted ECR events.


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Description Heath monitoring of bearings 
Organisation Schaeffler
Department Schaeffler Technologies AG & Co. KG – Herzogenaurach
Country Germany 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution supervising two industry funded PhDs
Collaborator Contribution access to expertise, special testing facilities and coating, sensor technologies
Impact PhD supervision
Start Year 2019