How to Reduce Friction on Your Machinery
Is friction a good thing or a bad thing?
For Formula One drivers, the answer is neither. On the one hand, more friction means more grip for the tires, and they can conquer tight corners at higher speeds. On the other hand, more friction can be devastating to the car’s engine.
Why is friction bad?
When talking about engines and other optimized machines, friction does more bad than good. It produces heat, contributes to parts wear and tear, limits speed, and reduces efficiency. If you’re an engineer, you’ll want to reduce friction as much as possible.
What are the different ways to reduce machine friction? Below are some of the best methods.
Use Lubricants to Reduce Friction
One of the most well-known friction-reduction methods is lubrication. How do lubricants work?
If you’ve ever slipped on a wet floor, you get the gist of how they work. When two surfaces meet, like the outsole of your shoe and the floor surface, an interlocking mechanism occurs at the microscopic level. When two unlubricated planes drag against each other, it produces friction and prevents you from slipping.
When you put a liquid such as oil between the two surfaces, it will shift and change shape as needed. The lubricant film serves as a cushion for the microscopic bumps between the two planes, thus reducing friction. In essence, you’re converting dry friction into fluid friction, which is much lower in magnitude.
Alter the Sliding Surfaces
As mentioned, one of the causes of friction is the microscopic ridges and valleys on two surfaces grinding against each other. So what can you do about that?
It stands to reason that flattening the microscopic bumps and making the surface smoother is a great way to reduce friction. Some examples of the methods used to smooth surfaces include grinding, polishing, and chemical etching.
Limit or Eliminate Contact Between Two Surfaces
If contact between the two surfaces is the problem, then it makes sense to separate them from each other. But how is this possible?
Have you ever ridden on a Maglev train? Maglev transportation uses a set of magnets to repel and suspend the train up off the track. With no surface contact and lack of friction, the train can move at much higher speeds, even achieving record-setting numbers.
Convert to Rolling Friction
It’s been said that mankind’s greatest invention is the humble wheel. Imagine the back-breaking work of pushing a square block of stone against the ground. Now imagine the same thing, only this time, you’re rolling a sphere instead of a square block.
Rolling friction is considerably lower in magnitude than sliding friction. That’s why simple machines like the wheel and axle or pulleys and sprockets are more efficient. You can see the applications of rolling friction in ball bearings, conveyor belts, and even ballpoint pens.
Friction Is a Necessary Evil
While friction keeps us from slipping and sliding all over, there are times when we want less or none of it. The different ways to reduce friction can reduce wear and tear and extend the life cycle of the machines we use in our daily lives.
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