Asperity-Level Origins of Transition from Mild to Severe Wear

R Aghababaei and T Brink and JF Molinari, PHYSICAL REVIEW LETTERS, 120, 186105 (2018).

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.120.186105

Wear is the inevitable damage process of surfaces during sliding contact. According to the well-known Archard's wear law, the wear volume scales with the real contact area and as a result is proportional to the load. Decades of wear experiments, however, show that this relation only holds up to a certain load limit, above which the linearity is broken and a transition from mild to severe wear occurs. We investigate the microscopic origins of this breakdown and the corresponding wear transition at the asperity level. Our atomistic simulations reveal that the interaction between subsurface stress fields of neighboring contact spots promotes the transition from mild to severe wear. The results show that this interaction triggers the deep propagation of subsurface cracks and the eventual formation of large debris particles, with a size corresponding to the apparent contact area of neighboring contact spots. This observation explains the breakdown of the linear relation between the wear volume and the normal load in the severe wear regime. This new understanding highlights the critical importance of studying contact beyond the elastic limit and single--asperity models.

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