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Fredrik Gustavsson (UU)

Published: 10 April 2013

Triboactive Component Coatings: Tribological Testing and Microanalysis of Low-Friction Tribofilms

Coatings are often used on critical components in machines and engines to reduce wear and to provide low friction in order to reduce energy losses and the environmental impact.

A triboactive coating not only provides this desired performance, it also actively maintains the low friction by a structural or chemical change in a very thin top layer of these already micrometer thin coatings. This so-called tribofilm is often 5-50 nm thick and can be formed either from the coating itself or by a reaction with the counter surface or the surrounding atmosphere, i.e. gas, fuel, oil, etc. The tribofilm will maintain the wanted performance for as long as the system is not chemically disturbed.

This thesis provides a detailed overview of the functionality of triboactive low-friction coatings, in many different systems. The majority of the tribofilms discussed, formed in very different environments, are built up by tungsten disulfide (WS2), which is a material similar to graphite, with a lamellar structure where strongly bonded atomic planes may slip over each other almost without resistance. The major difference is that WS2 is an intrinsically triboactive material, while graphite is not. However, graphite and other carbon-based materials can be made triboactive in certain atmospheres or by addition of other elements, such as hydrogen.

The remarkable affinity and driving force to form such WS2 low-friction tribofilms, regardless of the initial states of the sulfur and tungsten, and even when the forming elements are present only at ppm levels, is a recurrent observation in the thesis.

Addition of an alloying element to sputtered coatings of WS2 can improve its mechanical and frictional properties significantly. Several promising attempts have been made to find good candidates, out of which a few important ones are investigated in this thesis. Their achievable potential in friction reductions is demonstrated.

By reducing friction, energy losses can be avoided, which also results in lower particle and exhaust emissions, which directly reduces the environmental impact. Triboactive coatings are shown to be a promising route to significantly improve tribological applications and allow more environmental friendly and energy efficient vehicles.