Tribology of polymer composites for elevated temperature applications

Abstract: Polymers as construction material are common in the industry. Although more recently the use of polymer composites in more demanding applications has increased, requiring more of them mechanically, tribologically and thermally. To enhance the properties various fillers are used, from common glass fibers to more advanced nanoparticles. For this study three types of base polymers have been studied: poly-amide (PA), poly-phenylene-sulphide (PPS) and poly-ether-ether-ketone (PEEK). They have been filled with glass fibers, carbon fibers, poly-tetra-fluoro-ethylene (PTFE), graphite and thermally conductive modifier in various combinations. Fibers are used to increase the mechanical properties, PTFE and graphite are added as lubricating additives to reduce the friction, and the thermally conductive modifier to increase the thermal conductivity. Five general groups of polymer composites were studied.Pure PEEKPPS, PA and PEEK filled with fibersPPS, PA and PEEK filled with fibers and lubricating additivesPA filled with lubricating additivesPEEK filled with fibers and additives for lubrication and thermal conductivityThe polymer composites have been tribologically tested in a reciprocating sliding test set-up. Friction, wear and surface damage have been studied. Three types of counter surfaces have been used: ball bearing steel balls, stainless steel cylinders and anodized aluminum cylinders. Load, surface temperature of the polymer composites and number of cycles were varied to study any changes in friction and wear. The wear marks on the polymer composites were studied using an SEM. Cross sections of some tested samples were prepared to study any subsurface damage.From the tests the polymer composites showed similarities in friction. Lubricating additives gave lower friction, often around 0.05-0.15, while pure and only reinforced gave higher, often around 0.4-0.5. The wear was also less for polymer composites with lubricating additives. There was no clear influence of temperature but for most tests an increase in temperature gave lower friction. The only influence of load was that higher load gave wider wear tracks. Since no cross sections were prepared to compare subsurface damage due to different loads there might be a possibility that there were some differences below the surface as well. Otherwise cross sections showed that polymer composites with only fibers had cracks and cracked fibers below the surface due to the high stresses the polymer composite had been subjected to. With lubricating additives there was no large subsurface damage and it seems as if the lubricating additives formed a protective tribofilm in the wear track, giving both lower friction and wear. The presence of such a tribofilm was confirmed by XPS analysis that showed a surface layer containing F from PTFE.The conclusions are that the tribological properties of a polymer composite are strongly dependent on its fillers. Lubricating additives form a tribofilm that lowers friction and wear. Elevated temperatures might drastically change the tribological behavior of a polymer composite why it is important to do tests at higher temperatures. Cross sections can give information about subsurface damage and might help to understand the wear mechanisms and deformation of polymer composites better. More microscopy and mechanism studies are required in order to further understand the tribological behavior of polymer composites.