Efficient Plant February 2018 - 17
feature | tribology
but also give a much better surface finish to the part
being made. This knowledge can be used in future
jobs, especially if I go into a manufacturing field."
"The lab has given me more hands-on experience
in manufacturing engineering than anything else I
have done," she continued. "Working in it has taught
me how to apply what I've learned in my classes.
For me, I can try to learn everything you can think
of in a class, but until I do it myself and apply it to a
real-world situation, I won't truly learn it. This lab
has taught me how to apply what I've learned so that
when I graduate, I have a much better understanding
of what I was taught in my classes."
FILLING THE SKILLS GAP
The number-one concern of the future of manufacturing is filling the skills gaps, Professor Jackson
stated. "Industry is full of people getting ready to
retire. Auburn is positioning graduates to be able to
fill these positions."
Jackson is a graduate of Georgia Tech, Atlanta,
which had a strong tribology research program.
"I took an elective and wondered why no one was
talking about this," he said. "I couldn't believe I had
to take an elective to learn about this. I asked one of
the professors if I could do some summer research.
He gave me a project and it grew from there." Those
experiences later inspired him to spearhead the
program at Auburn.
"Students come into the lab and get their hands
dirty, helping with experiments, making measurements, and then analyzing the data," Jackson said.
"This is very valuable experience, even if they are not
going to do research after school. It's very applicable
to an environment where they may need to evaluate
the wear and friction and lubrication of a certain application. Some companies have similar machines to
what we have here. These machines are actually used
in manufacturing facilities."
The students also learn from some nontraditional
studies. For example, Jackson is collaborating with
Auburn's Veterinary School to study the cartilage of a
"We theorize that the cartilage on the different
joints is also different," he said. "This is different than
other engineering materials. For instance, if we can
make better artificial joints, perhaps we
can make better industrial bearings."
Another nontraditional research
area is electrical contacts. "In tribology, the chemistry, fluid, thermal
effects, etc., are all considered but
then you add electricity into the
problem and it makes things more
complicated," Jackson explained.
"We do a lot of research on
the reliability of electrical
is very diverse. We
always get new things
to work on. Anytime
you have interactions
tribology is very
Dr. Payton agreed that
this kind of experience helps
to fill industry's skills gap. "In
the Design and Manufacturing Lab it is
not our goal to make machinists," he said. "It is our
goal to make designers who understand what their
technicians can and cannot do. We have 1,400 qualified users of this lab. They build things for research,
personal, and class projects. Once they finish the
basic course, they are very skilled on these machines.
They learn in one semester everything about operating these machines that students learn at a two-year
There is a misconception in industry that someone
coming out of a two-year college is ready to do real
machinist work on a production line, Payton said.
"They are capable of doing basic things like setting
up a CNC machine," he explained, "but they are
not qualified to optimize the machines to achieve
maximum throughput. They can't design tooling.
"Some major four-year universities also are
not offering this education and training," Payton
noted. "It's difficult to imagine who will build the
next generation of machines when the colleges
don't have several generations of old machines to
teach with, and the students are not actually using
the machines." EP
friction and wear
Left. A view of
the multi-scale tribology
laboratory at Auburn.
See videos about the
Program in the online
version of this article at
Michelle Segrest is
president of Navigate
Content Inc. and
specializes in creating
content for the processing
industries. If your facility
has an interesting
and/or reliability story
to tell, please contact
her at michelle@