Advanced science.  Applied technology.


Engine Friction Testing

An engine consists of numerous moving parts that experience friction due to several factors including improper lubrication, material compatibility, and environmental changes. Increased friction can lead to serious component damage, as well as a decrease in gas mileage. Friction testing is used to measure engine friction as a method of evaluating and improving fuel efficiency and component performance. Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) tribologists offer a wide array of testing options to allow manufacturers to assess and reduce engine friction.

Friction Assessments & Modeling in Engine Simulation

Friction testing is conducted in SwRI’s tribology laboratory with several different types of test rigs to quantify engine friction, and to investigate the effects of lubricants and lubricant additives. Tests can be conducted at the component level, and up to a fully assembled engine. Friction test rigs can be used to simulate the following components:

  • Journal bearing spin loss
  • Bearing and shaft
  • Piston and liner
  • Piston ring and liner
  • Valve trains
  • Cam and tappet
  • Oil and water pumps

Real-Time Wear Measurements

Friction and wear are typically measured in engines, and mechanical systems to evaluate lubricant chemistries, component design, and surface coatings. Download our tribology laboratory brochure to learn about standardized tribology testing, specialty assessments and tribometers used in friction and wear testing.

The SwRI developed radioactive tracer technology (RATT®)  can make real-time wear measurements in mechanical systems, including operating engines that are highly accurate and sensitive. Institute engineers study wear in real-time to quickly identify component wear. Whereas most techniques take hours or days to collect this data, RATT is able to gather it in minutes.

This technology can also be adapted to investigate wear at the component level using a bench top test rig.

Surface Engineering

SwRI offers services such as coating sample components for evaluation purposes as well as transferring coating capability to component manufacturers for full production applications. Diamond-like and nanocomposite advanced coatings, for example, can be applied to engine components to provide wear resistance, low friction coefficients and corrosion resistance.

Coefficient of Friction Testing

Coefficient of friction (COF) laboratory testing is used for a wide variety of materials and lubricants to determine their friction behavior and overall system performance. The COF is a dimensionless ratio of the tangential friction force between interacting materials, and the normal force pressing them together. COF is a system property which depends on many factors such as material type, surface finish, temperature, and contact geometry. The tribology group at SwRI offers solutions to measure the coefficient of friction for nearly any system.

Applications for this test type include:

  • Automotive parts and lubricants
  • Oil and gas
  • Manufacturing and commercial equipment
  • Industrial components
  • Household items such as soaps, razor blades, and flooring
  • Food items
  • Textiles
  • Polymers
  • Cosmetics
  • Footwear
  • Aerospace

Abrasion Testing

Abrasion testing can be performed upon request by tribology experts at SwRI. There are several applications for abrasion testing, including asphalt and highway abrasion testing. Abrasion testing can measure resistance strength and degradation characteristics of asphalt and aggregate material. Contact us for more information or visit our AASHTO MASH & NCHRP 350 Testing to find related services in accordance with industry transportation standards.​

Watch the SwRI Tribology team in action.

Related Services


Or call Peter Lee at +1 210 522 5545.