Advancing tribology

By Stephen Veldhuis   

Industry Innovation & Technology Automotive Manufacturing Resource Sector AUTO21 automotive manufacturers Innovation McMaster University productivity tribology

Tuning up automotive tooling.

Canadian automotive manufacturers are searching for ways to increase productivity and quality while reducing costs. Tooling represents a significant opportunity. Machines run at much higher speeds than traditional tooling can withstand, limiting which materials are processed and how quickly a part is made. Addressing this limitation would improve productivity with minimal investment.

Friction and wear directly impact the performance and life of tools, running up billions of dollars per year in worn parts and consumed energy. Tribology offers a solution to some of these tooling issues.

AUTO21 researchers are focusing on the engineering and testing of advanced surface treatments. So far, a range of forming and metal cutting tools have lasted two to three times longer under lab testing, and industrial testing under production conditions has further validated the results. Researchers are now looking to develop local sources for these surface treatments.

A key part of the research involves detailed study of manufacturing processes and worn tooling for a thorough understanding of chemical, thermal and physical wear. Once the root causes of wear are understood, researchers link the problems with suitable coatings or surface treatments that allow the tools to run longer and faster.


On its own, the cost of tools don’t represent a lot of money (3% to 5% of a manufacturer’s total operating budget) but they have a significant impact on other costs. For example, when a tool reaches the end of its life, the machine stops. A changeover involves resetting offsets and operating parameters. There’s lost production time but this activity also triggers a lot of low value-added manual labour, an area in which Canada is not very competitive.

Advanced coatings also lower capital costs by getting more productivity from fewer machines and higher performing tools process materials with better mechanical properties. This is key for automotive companies introducing high strength, lightweight alloys and performance improvements to their vehicles.

There are environmental benefits, too. Coolants and lubricants used in manufacturing accumulate pollutants over time, which makes safe disposal time consuming and expensive. If liquid lubricants are used, companies pay to wash and dry the parts before shipping them. Advanced coatings reduce and sometimes eliminate the need for coolant and/or liquid lubricants by building lubricity into the tool’s surface, and by making the tool less susceptible to thermal damage. Using less lubricant reduces the amount of materials to be disposed of.

AUTO21 researchers are currently working with local industries to transfer this technology into production, which will help automotive companies pursue opportunities in global markets.

Stephen Veldhuis is a professor at McMaster University and director of the McMaster Manufacturing Research Institute. He’s also the lead researcher of AUTO21’s Advanced Tribology for Products and Processes project. Visit

This article appears in the September 2014 issue of PLANT.

Comments? E-mail


Stories continue below

Print this page

Related Stories