E-maintenance pioneer receives top tribology prize for research on friction and wear

Winner of the 2017 Gold Medal for Tribology – the study of friction, wear and lubrication – has been named as Professor Kenneth Holmberg of leading Finnish research and technology centre VTT.
    The medal recognises Prof Holmberg’s longstanding and significant achievements in material and friction research. It was presented to him on behalf of the Tribology Trust in December at the British Embassy in Helsinki.
    “Friction accounts for 20% of all energy consumption in the world. When friction is reduced, less energy is consumed,” says Professor Holmberg. “This is an excellent way of combating climate change.”
Impacts of Professor Holmberg’s research into the reduction of friction and machine wear can be seen in three main areas of the field.
    First, he has devoted much time to the study of engineering maintenance, including preventive and predictive maintenance, and has become a leader in the new field of E-maintenance, publishing a book with that title in 2010.
    The book explores the possibilities offered by new and advanced information and communication technology to achieve efficient and sustainable maintenance solutions in industry, energy production and transportation. It covers technology such as microsensors and smart tags for condition monitoring, while the book also discusses the implementation of diagnostics and prognostics, and maintenance decision support by economic optimisation.
    Professor Holmberg continues to conceive and lead innovative projects on dynamic maintenance.
    His second key contribution to the discipline has related to the development of coatings such as nanostructured thin films to structural materials in order to reduce friction and wear, and hence improve their economic performance. His book Coatings Tribology, with Prof Allan Matthews of Sheffield and Manchester universities, has become a key text in the field.
    Advances in digitalisation have made possible the optimal shaping of mechanical components which, when combined with thin coatings, can reduce friction by 50% to ensure that machines last longer. Surfaces 100 times more slippery than 20 years ago have been achieved.
    Third, Prof Holmberg has contributed significantly to the field of energy conservation in passenger vehicles, publishing an influential paper Global energy consumption due to friction in passenger cars in 2012. Friction accounts for over 30% of fuel consumption in passenger cars.
    Professor Holmberg, the first Finn to win the award, was presented with the medal by HM Ambassador to Finland Sarah Price alongside the chairperson of the Tribology Trust award committee, Keith Bowen.
    The award, known as the ‘Tribology Nobel prize’, was awarded for the first time in 1972 and to date has been awarded to 38 people from 12 countries.
    Speaking after receiving the award, Professor Holmberg thanked the Tribology Trust for “giving me this medal which I appreciate very much and I value very highly”.
    He paid tribute to former winners and highlighted that scientific research is a team effort, thanking his colleagues and VTT for their support before also thanking his family and close friends.
    The Tribology Trust is an independently funded trust administered by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London.