Tribotronics is a field of application of tribology that deals with integrating active control loops into machinery where tribological phenomena occur to improve the efficiency of the machinery itself. Tribotronics addresses questions like: “How should we design self-sensing bearings, that can detect their own wear and upcoming failure?”, or “How can we design seals that can detect leakage and react if required?”, or “How can we design ‘active’ surfaces with controlled tribological properties, such as friction or viscous slip?”

Tribotronics is a strongly inter-disciplinary field of research, and as such it may not be surprising that as a result of its strong specialization in various fields such as computational mechanics, optimization, physics, metrology, and control, within our department tribology research is predominantly tribotronics research.

Tribotronics refers to the combined use of tribology and electronics to control tribological systems. Tribotronic systems are designed to improve efficiency, reliability and lifetime of machine elements by active control of tribosystem inputs (such as force, torque, rotational speeds, etc.), outputs (such as motion, changes in energy, etc.) and losses (such as friction, wear, vibrations, etc.). This is in contrast to traditional tribological and mechatronic systems, where losses are seen as a function of system inputs rather than desired set-points. While the term was originally coined with a particular emphasis on the control of tribological losses, it is increasingly used to describe any active system that combines tribological and electronic components, irrespective of the process variables and set-points of the control loop.

Design of tribotronic systems

One way to design tribotronic systems is to build control loops around passive machine elements (such as gears, fluid bearings and rolling-element bearings) in order to create active machine elements. Relevant process variables (tribosystem inputs, outputs, losses and structure) of the control loop may include:

  • flow rates of lubricants or other pressurized fluids;
  • physical properties of lubricants and pressurized fluids, such as viscosity and density;
  • the molecular composition and ordering of lubricants and pressurized fluids, both in the bulk fluid as well as close to contacting surfaces;
  • dynamics of the mechanical system;
  • mechanical properties of the contact bodies, such as stiffness and hardness;
  • properties of contacting surfaces, such as surface energy, surface charge, electrical resistance, surface texture, surface geometry and surface roughness;
  • progression of surface wear;
  • friction losses.


  1. Glavatskih, Sergei; Höglund, Erik (2008). “Tribotronics—Towards active tribology”. Tribology International. 41 (9–10): 934–939. doi:10.1016/j.triboint.2007.03.001.
  2. Zhang, Chi; Wang, Zhong Lin (2016). “Tribotronics—A new field by coupling triboelectricity and semiconductor”. Nano Today. 11 (4): 521–536. doi:10.1016/j.nantod.2016.07.004.
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