Targeted product improvements based on in-depth knowledge of friction and wear

Whether motors and pumps as a whole or their seals - almost every application product is affected by friction and wear. The consequences are high energy losses and a shortened service life of the products. To counteract this, Fraunhofer IFAM is working intensively on tribology, i.e. the question of how friction and wear can be reduced or how lubrication between components can be improved. This is because these factors are directly influenced by various things such as material selection, surface coating, or contact geometry. With its broad spectrum of competencies in the fields of materials research, coating technology and analytics, the institute offers ideal conditions for developing holistic tribological solutions.

Friction reduction and wear protection through tailored material solutions

Friction and wear are influenced by many different factors. In addition to environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity or stress factors such as pressure loads, these include above all the material itself. In addition to the chemical composition, the microstructure, strength, and damping behavior of the material are important properties. At Fraunhofer IFAM, various manufacturing and shaping processes are available which can be used to create customized material solutions:

Procedures Advantages Application examples
Powder metallurgy Tribological stresses often require different, usually even contrasting material properties. By researching specific friction and sliding materials, powder metallurgy enables the targeted adjustment of tribological properties of metallic materials.
  • Synchronizer rings for automotive transmissions
  • Friction linings/brake pads (bicycle, car)
Composite materials Composite materials are materials composed of at least two different materials. For example, a steel material can be made more wear-resistant by adding ceramics.
  • Implants
  • Knives, shears
  • Friction linings/brake pads
  • Seals, nozzles
  • Balls, grinders
Casting technology Casting technology develops materials and alloys for customized adaptation to the intended use. For example, finer microstructures can be implemented on the surface to improve the friction properties.
  • Engine cylinder
  • Thixotropic connecting rod

Tribological coatings enable a longer service life for products

Nowadays, machines and tools are exposed to ever higher loads in terms of wear and friction. The surfaces play a decisive role in this. They determine friction, wear and lubrication behavior and thus also durability. Special functional coatings, applied for example by plasma or thick-film processes, can improve the service life of components. In addition, the use of friction- and wear-reducing coatings can save energy, for example by facilitating the mobility of all parts, including complex geometries, in specific applications. At Fraunhofer IFAM, tribological coating processes are developed for a wide range of applications and industries:

Procedures Advantages Application examples
Functional plasma coatings In addition to the more common tribological coatings for metallic materials, Fraunhofer IFAM is also developing friction- and wear-reducing coatings for plastics in particular. 
  • Elastomer seals, radial shaft seals, cassette seals, O-rings, sealing sleeves, seals for medical syringes, valve seals
  • Damping discs, windshield wiper rubbers, rubber wheels, rubber rollers, sliding paint sets
  • Light metals, shears, knives, guide rails, anodizing set
Functional lacquers In order to increase the service life of components, the focus is on the development of tribologically stressable lacquers. These are provided with the necessary properties depending on the respective requirements, e.g. those of automotive, aircraft or wind energy plant construction.
  • Bonded lacquers
  • Flow optimization of ship hulls, wind turbine blades and fans (e.g. from computers or house ventilation, factory ventilation)
Thick film technology Thick-film technology can be used to produce various wear-resistant coatings, especially hard ones. These have the advantage that they can also be designed for electrical conductivity or biocompatibility.
  • Hard wear-resistant coatings on stainless steels by reaction sintering of titanium pastes
  • Sensor development for pressure load and wear condition

Comprehensive analytics for smooth processes

In addition to the development of materials and functional coatings, the analysis of components and processes also plays a decisive role in tribology. Various analytical methods are available at the institute, thanks to which tribological systems can be optimized. The aim is to reduce friction-related energy and material losses. The following model test benches are available at Fraunhofer IFAM:

  • Tribometer Bruker/CETR for oscillating and rotating measurements in different load ranges (UMT1, UMT3)
  • Tribometer Wazau for rotating measurements (TRM 5000)
  • Washability and abrasion tester TQC Abrasion Tester
  • Oscillating abrasion tester PrEN 6124 with high weight loading
  • Taber abrasion tester

In addition, the institute offers a wide range of methods for surface characterization and material analysis. These include high-resolution microscope techniques and elemental analyses.


Dr. Dominik Paulkowski has been conducting research in the field of tribology in the "Plasma Technology and Surfaces" department for many years. Together with other scientists, he works on optimizing components and coatings so that they are durable in long-term operation.