The main role of a lubricant is to form a protective, low shear strength film between rubbing surfaces and thereby reduce friction and surface damage. The science, or art, of both the lubricant and the mechanical designer is to develop combinations of lubricant and mechanical system best able to form such films. This task is not straightforward since modern technology is continually demanding lower friction and better protection over an ever-widening range of operating conditions. Furthermore, environmental concerns are also producing both design constraints and the need for rapid change.
The aim of this paper is to show how progress is being made by experimental research which looks inside rubbing contacts to see how lubricants behave therein. The paper focuses on concentrated contacts, as found in gears, cams and rolling element bearings, and describes a number of techniques for probing such contacts to observe just how a range of lubricant types, from greases to emulsions, behave in such contacts to reduce friction and form films.