Turning Tribology into Value


Coming from a company thats synonymous with bearings, seals and specialty steels, Peter Drechsler observes that lubricants and bearings are inseparable fields. Lubes today are as important to the bearings industry as in the past. There have been many advances in the lubricants field, just as there have been in bearings, he told LubesnGreases. Bearings today have been greatly enhanced, from improvements made in the steel used to make the bearings, to the processes used to finish the bearings.

Because of this, demands and pressures on bearings and their materials are increasing. Fortunately, the lube industry has been active in providing new additives to help meet these demands, he went on. There have been many changes in the lubricants used over the decades. The processing of base oils also has improved tremendously, and with the introduction of synthetics like PAO the life of lubricants has improved as well.

A senior tribology specialist with The Timken Co. in Canton, Ohio, Drechsler recently became president of the Society of Tribologists & Lubrication Engineers, during the groups annual meeting in Las Vegas. Bringing deep experience in both lubrication research and bearing design and manufacture, he aligns the societys two sides: scientific and practical. From the workshop floor persons to academia, the ability to meet with so many diverse industry people is invaluable, he said of STLE.

His thirst for knowledge about lubricants grew after he received his bachelors degree in physical science from Central Connecticut State University. He began to pursue a career with an emphasis on metalworking fluids and greases, and held technical positions with AMFs Cuno Division and Pratt & Whitney Aircraft prior to joining Torrington.

Drechslers specialization in lubrication intensified in 1981, when he started at the Torrington Co., later purchased by Timken. As an analytical chemist working in the lab and performing analyses on grease samples and process fluids, he was approached by management and asked if he would be interested in becoming the companys lube expert. Seeing this as a great opportunity, he agreed.

As Timkens in-house lube expert, he published several papers and became holder of two U.S. patents dealing with metalworking fluids. He also received Ingersoll-Rands Distinguished Inventor Award for development of a grinding coolant reclamation technology – still held as a company trade secret.

As he advanced, Drechsler needed to become knowledgeable about the lubricants industry and lubrication practices. This was the point at which he first learned about STLE, a professional society of tribology and lubrication experts and companies, founded in 1944 in Chicago. Through the years I took most of the seminars and courses offered by the STLE, including the one dealing with metalworking fluids. I thirsted for knowledge in lubrication and metalworking fluids and had taken courses elsewhere, but I always found that the STLE offered more, he reminisced.

Long an active volunteer at both the local and national levels, he became an STLE regional vice president in 2000, joined the societys board of directors, and in May was elected president for 2010-2011. It has been an extremely rewarding experience working with so many wonderful and experienced people over the years, he said.

From todays perspective the STLEs activities are crucial for industry experts and researchers to share knowledge, Drechsler continued. In the course of the past decade, with energy prices peaking in 2008, activities like the STLE annual conference and the International Joint Tribology Conference (IJTC), have became indispensible for many in industry. IJTC is a joint venture between STLE and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

The societys leadership realizes, however, that many researchers or engineers cannot come to STLE seminars and courses. In response, its activities and resources increasingly are moving online, where they can be shared with anyone worldwide and help expand its membership. At this years annual meeting, the organization rolled out an online training center with various courses covering various aspects of tribology, such as basic lubrication, gear lubrication, metalworking fluids and others.

Many people would love to take our annual courses. Now we are able to bring them to wherever they are in the world, Drechsler commented.

STLE has been recognized for training, education and dissemination of knowledge for a long time, Drechsler confirmed. We are always looking for a ways to promote tribology training and education. From now on it can be accessible not only to our members but globally, to everyone who is in the industry, be it as a student or experienced researcher, he said.

To stay up to date with trends and demands in energy efficiency, STLE established close ties with the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power in 2009. We live in a challenging time concerning the new tastes of the consumers and changes in equipment. How to transfer the power in smaller and smaller [units] and how to get that done efficiently is a main concern in the industry today, he said.

There are many tribology conferences and technical societies around the world, in Europe particularly, where we are trying to expand our brand awareness, but none of them has the focus as STLE, he asserted, adding that STLE is an international group with members throughout the world attending its conference; a large number of the presenters in this years meeting came from abroad.

According to Drechsler, STLE membership is stable now at about 4,000 members. That has drifted down from some 7,000 members a few decades ago. Obviously, with the globalization processes when many companies merged and with the economic downturn, our membership has been reduced to some level in the recent years, but this number is pretty much stable. We regularly survey what are the members needs or complaints. The society envisions membership to grow globally, and this is one of the reasons why it strives to collaborate with other similar groups.

We attended the Chinese Tribology Institute conference last year and we learned that China cares about the environment just as much as the United States or the European Union, and establishing long-term relationship with Chinese is a great opportunity for us.

Besides working with the Chinese, we are making efforts to establish firm relation with the Tribology Society of India, he said, adding that last year STLE presented educational courses in India.

Thats what the main mission of the society is: We provide the forum and let people share their thoughts and latest scientific developments to meet the industry demands, Drechsler said.

The median age of the STLE membership is 45 years, he noted.

However in certain areas we have an aging population and we see a need to bring in younger tribologists. Each generation is motivated by different factors. The things that we should understand are what would attract younger members to become the leaders of the society today.

The Young Tribologists Program instituted by our member Dr. Ashley Martini from Perdue University or the local organization sections set up by STLE in some university campuses in the U.S. and abroad are excellent ways to attract the younger tribologists into the society, Drechsler concluded.