Vibration is a mechanical phenomenon whereby oscillations occur about an equilibrium point. The oscillations may be periodic, such as the motion of a pendulum—or random, such as the movement of a tire on a gravel road.

Vibration can be desirable: for example, the motion of a tuning fork, the reed in a woodwind instrument or harmonica, a mobile phone, or the cone of a loudspeaker.

In many cases, however, vibration is undesirable, wasting energy and creating unwanted sound. For example, the vibrational motions of engines, electric motors, or any mechanical device in operation are typically unwanted. Such vibrations could be caused by imbalances in the rotating parts, uneven friction, or the meshing of gear teeth. Careful designs usually minimize unwanted vibrations.

The studies of sound and vibration are closely related. Sound, or pressure waves, are generated by vibrating structures (e.g. vocal cords); these pressure waves can also induce the vibration of structures (e.g. ear drum). Hence, attempts to reduce noise are often related to issues of vibration.

Noise control is a set of strategies to reduce noise pollution by reducing noise at its source, by inhibiting sound propagation using noise barriers or similar, or by the use of ear protection (earmuffs or earplugs). Control at the source is the most cost-effective way of providing noise control. Noise control engineering applied to cars and trucks is known as noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH). Other techniques to reduce product noise include vibration isolation, application of acoustic absorbent and acoustic enclosures. Acoustical engineering can go beyond noise control to look at what is the best sound for a product, for instance, manipulating the sound of door closures on automobiles.

Acoustic engineers working on vibration study the motions and interactions of mechanical systems with their environments, including measurement, analysis and control. This might include: ground vibrations from railways and construction; vibration isolation to reduce noise getting into recording studios; studying the effects of vibration on humans (vibration white finger); vibration control to protect a bridge from earthquakes, or modelling the propagation of structure-borne sound through buildings.

Coming soon – a directory of resources relating to the control of vibration in South Africa