Tribology 101

You may not know what "Tribology" is, but it affects your business every day. In fact, it plays a huge role in your fleet maintenance costs. Tribology, for those of you who don't know, is the study of friction. The word comes from the Greek word "tribos," which means "rubbing," and rubbing is serious business when it's taking place inside an engine or a gearbox. Tribology was just one of many topics covered yesterday at a "Tech Day" event held by Shell Lubricants in Houston, TX. The folks at Shell invited a group of journalists to tour their Westhollow Technology Center in Houston, and on the tour we got a basic grounding in friction and rubbing and what Shell is doing to combat these forces. It might not sound exciting to you, but to a science geek like me, there's nothing better than spending a day poking around a laboratory and looking over the shoulders of scientists as they conduct experiments. So, what did I learn that might be of value to our readers? Quite a bit, actually. I won't spill all the beans here, because we'll be doing stories on some of these topics in time, but there is one thing that I can address now: synthetics. By the time the tour and demonstrations were over yesterday, I had gained a new appreciation for synthetic engine oil, both in the passenger car and heavy-duty markets. Synthetic engine oils, the Shell experts told us, have not caught on in North America as they have in Europe, because of misperceptions about their performance benefits and concerns about their cost. After all, why use more expensive synthetics if they don't allow you to extend your oil drain intervals? The answer is: engine wear. If synthetic oil can reduce engine wear and extend the life of your engines, wouldn't it be worth the extra cost? The Shell folks certainly made a strong case for this, but I'm interested in what you think. Have you tried synthetic engine oil? Do you have a success story to share? Do you have a nightmare story to share? What are yoru fears and concerns? I'd like to hear...

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