Wear mechanisms in oil-lubricated and dry fretting of silicon nitride against bearing steel contacts

M. Kalin, J. Vižintin, S. Novak, G. Dražić

Wear 210 (1997) 27–38.


The wear and friction behaviour of silicon nitride against bearing steel was investigated under lubricated and dry fretting conditions as a function of amplitude and test duration. Tests were performed on a high frequency fretting tester. Silicon nitride bearing balls were used as the upper oscillating specimens while the lower stationary flats were standard specimens of bearing steel. Amplitudes in the intermediate 5 to 50 *m range and a test duration from 10 to 360 minutes were studied. In lubricated conditions a commercial lubricant, ISO VG 220, was used. Light microscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS), Auger spectroscopy (AES) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) were employed to determine the wear mechanisms. Under lubricated conditions transition from high to low wear volumes was recognised with increasing amplitude. At lower amplitudes and in the early stage of fretting tests at moderate amplitudes, mechanical wear dominated. Cracks on the stick-slip boundary and spalling of a thin tribolayer was observed. Under these conditions the highest wear in lubricated fretting was obtained. In the final stage of fretting tests at moderate amplitudes, and from the beginning at higher amplitudes, tribochemical wear is suggested as the dominant wear form. A 0.2 mm thick tribolayer was observed on the contact, containing inclusions with different Fe and Si contents. A very high concentration of carbon, formed by oil degradation, was also determined in this layer, confirming the critical influence of oil on the wear behaviour. Quite a different wear mechanism is proposed for dry fretting conditions. Results of AES analyses showed an order of magnitude thicker layer than in lubricated fretting, also having a remarkably different chemical composition. TEM analysis confirmed that the reaction layer consists of a silica-rich amorphous phase containing small inclusions of Fe₂O₃ and Fe₃O₄. In contrast to lubricated conditions, where the layer created was ductile, in the case of dry fretting the layer was brittle. The continuous process of forming and spalling the brittle tribolayer caused much higher wear rates and wear losses than under lubricated fretting conditions. No transition in wear behaviour was observed as was the case in lubricated fretting.

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