Less Friction = More Jobs?


TURIN, Italy – Applying tribology on a serious scale can result not just in resource and energy savings, it can increase employment, the 5th World Tribology Congress heard.

H. Peter Jost, U.K.-based president of the International Tribology Council, welcomed delegates to this weeks Congress with the assertion that tribology, the key science in the war against friction and wear, has the potential to boost employment in the United Kingdom alone by 300,000 or more.

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New materials and new technologies are cascading upon the world, Jost told the Congress opening session on Monday, but their tribological benefits are often not recognized by potential users. Tribology, he reminded, is the study of interactive surfaces in motion, and today it has blossomed into such new fields as ecotribology, biotribology and nanotribology.

The contributions from tribologists in academic and other research settings continue to grow, but industry often does not keep up, Jost contended. There is a gap between creators and users of new technologies. To remedy this, many tribology societies are working hard to reach potential users.

Chinas tribology community, for example, issued a detailed report in 2008 whose conclusions included three points. First, it recommended formal and continuous education in tribology. Second, it urged innovation in approaching new technologies. And third, it urged tribology support of the development of new technologies and equipment.

The problem, said Jost, is persuading users – industry and governments – to apply new technology to increase efficiency, energy savings, and yes, employment. Basic research transfers to applied research and technology, but the weak point is obtaining industry acceptance of the work done by scientists.

Perhaps the best way to reach industry, said Jost, is to demonstrate the real cost of tribological failure; fear of failure is very useful to make potential users aware of the value of tribology. He urged the worlds tribology organizations to hold meetings devoted to failures, damage and their costs, that could have been prevented if known tribological knowledge were applied.

There is one further aspect to our work, Jost continued. It is to make governments aware of the influence of tribology on employment.

The relation of gross domestic product to employment is complex, and an investigation showed the totality of reduction of friction and wear does not in itself affect the GDP. What it can do is to increase the net domestic product.

U.K. data, Jost said, show that reduced friction and wear on the scale he envisions could add to nations economic well-being to an extent that would result in additional people being in the workplace. Jost claimed that improvements in the net product of the workplace would translate to an additional 300,000 to 350,000 in the U.K. workforce.

Applied research in tribology, Jost concluded, is a good investment. It saves energy, benefits the environment and adds people to the workforce.

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