Muc-Off’s investment in industry-leading equipment provides the clearest evidence of our commitment to a scientific approach to bicycle lubricant development. From sophisticated tribometers to bespoke dynamometers, industrial microscopes to 3D printers, the new R&D facility at our global headquarters on the south coast of England is filled with advanced equipment. In true James Bond style, the names of our incredible R&D team have been kept secret – they're too clever for the world to handle right now.
Tribometers are sophisticated machines that replicate friction-inducing motion in a way that is infinitely controllable. The mechanical contacts that occur in a bicycle drivetrain can be isolated and reproduced in every aspect to test their interaction with a lubricant and its effectiveness.
The Separate testing ‘stages’ – precisely engineered modules that attach to the tribometer – can be used to recreate standard tests, like those defined by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), or to support novel tests developed by the user. Our novel line contact, high-frequency reciprocating tribometer test method, developed by the National Physical Laboratory, is a good example this.
The Tribometers offer extremely high levels of accuracy. Powerful electronic sensors generate valuable real-time data that also can be recorded for post-test analysis. Further, by using metal samples of known hardness and surface finish instead of drivetrain components, tribometer testing eliminates inevitable variance from manufacturing tolerance. These test ‘coupons’ can also be prepared to replicate the various surface coatings used by different chain manufacturers. Characteristics like absorbency play a huge role in how efficient a lubricant is.
The use of tribometers has accelerated our development processes significantly. Previously, our development work was conducted solely with the dynamometer. While a sophisticated test rig in its own right, and still our go-to tool for application-specific testing, the dyno demands an iterative approach, which is time-consuming.
Tribometers have also increased the breadth and scope of our testing. While dyno-led testing is most effective in measuring the efficiency of performance products, tribo testing has the benefit of including wear, making it an incredible tool in the development of durability products. Most importantly, tribometer testing offers high levels of repeatability. The degree of precision afforded by such close control over the configuration of its many test parameters (speed, load, torque, motion, direction etc.) significantly increases the probability of generating the same outcome each time the test is run.
Our award-winning chain link dynamometer, used to develop lubricants and prepare chains for Tour de France victories, UCI Hour Records and Olympic finals, maintains a critical role in our tribology testing. by the infamous and anonymous Dr M, Muc-Off's Research and Development Technical Director, our ‘dyno’ remains the focus for our application testing. Our research project with LGC and NPL confirmed our dyno’s accuracy at 0.005w. Its Full Load mode offers an overview of drivetrain efficiency, derived from the simple deduction of wattage output by the system from the wattage applied with its drive motor. Tension Mode by contrast is used to gain precise measurements of a lubricant’s effect.
In Tension mode the dyno can be described as a ‘recirculating power’ device, ‘locking’ torque into the chain, placing the chain in tension ensures that the contact pressure captured matches the application. The drive motor turns the chainring, while the sprocket turns freely. The power required to turn the shaft in the drive motor is therefore the same as that dissipated from the chain as friction. This enables precise measurement of frictional power loss.
The dyno’s ability to simulate real-world conditions is comprehensive. In Stage Mode, for example, its scope includes Tour de France routes, recreated metre-by-metre and shift-by-automated-shift in our R&D facility from data captured on the road in bike-mounted devices.
Our Contour White Light Interferometer is a powerful optical measurement tool; an industrial microscope able to render the surface topography of a component or prepared sample in the highest resolution. The interferometer uses an algorithm to measure the interaction between its own light source and reflected light from the measured sample and to plot a microscopic world of 'hills' and 'valleys' on the surface of an object.
It is perhaps misleading even to talk of microns. Tribology has its own mathematical solutions to the challenge of measuring infinitesimal roughness or ‘asperity’. Muc-Off's scientists determine various height and volume parameters from surfaces, as an example they use the Ra calculation, reached by measuring surface deviation from an 'arithmetic mean' – the average point between the peaks and troughs on a roughened surface. While we make our own tribometer test samples, the polishing of these metal 'tokens' is outsourced to specialists to create the precise surface finish required for a given test.
Our scientists use Muc-Off's 3D printer to create a range of objects, from leading-edge prototype components, some designed with McLaren, to the jigs, moulds and fixtures used for bespoke tests. Its capacity to print in a range of materials, including carbon, makes it an invaluable tool for our mechanical engineers, chemists and tribologists.
1 - A laser source sends a laser beam to solidify the material.
2 - The elevator raises and lowers the platform to help lay the layers.
3 - The vat contains the material used to create the 3D object.
4 - The 3D object is created as parts are layered on top of each other.
5 - Materials can include plastic, resin and polymers.
An Additive Layer Manufacturing process lay at the heart of our Lightweight Oversized Precision System, created for Team Bahrain-McLaren leader Mikel Landa to use in the pivotal stage 20 time-trial at the 2020 Tour de France. The project’s non-negotiable timescales inspired our engineers to select titanium for the cage body material. Its complex geometries were achieved by printing with a level of precision beyond what could be achieved with conventional milling techniques.
While these pieces of equipment are often used individually to great effect, they can really come into their own when used together to clean and optimise chains for the fastest race teams in the world. Teams such as INEOS Grenadiers and EF-NIPPO Education will send up to 100 chains at once, which are then checked on the dyno for efficiency. These chains are then cleaned in a state-of-the-art detergent in an Ultrasonic Tank, before being brushed. They then go through a process of being dried with an airline, then in an oven before being repeated. They then head to the dyno, where they're lubed and run-in multiple times for optimum efficiency, before the desired lubricant is applied. They're fully tested to gather data, which is sent to the team along with the treated and now ultra-fast chains, ready to take on the world’s toughest races.