Dissemination of IT for the Promotion of Materials Science (DoITPoMS)


Friction theory

The coefficient of friction, μ, is determined by the behaviour of asperity contacts. Adhesive forces which develop at asperity contacts and deformation forces which are needed to plough the asperities of the harder surface through the softer surface are important.

Adhesion arises from the attractive forces which are assumed to operate at asperity contacts. Adhesive forces between metals can be greater than the cohesive forces in the softer metal – this is important for wear as it can result in material being removed from the softer surface.

Ploughing forces arise since asperities will deform when the surfaces move relative to one another. The animation shows plastic deformation occurring, so applies to most metals.

In addition, an important factor in the friction of ceramics is the extent of fracture on the sliding surfaces. Fracture leads to increased friction, since it provides an additional mechanism for the dissipation of energy. 

Oxide films affect μ. Friction between oxide surfaces, or between oxide and bare metal is almost always less than between surfaces of bare metal. Strength and thickness of oxide films are therefore important, as a weaker oxide film which can be sheared more easily will give a low μ, and a thicker film will make contact between the metals themselves less likely and so a lower μ is more probable. 

Click here for two models for friction of metals, one of which is simple and the other more sophisticated.

These models give similar results, the key points being that:

\[\mu  \approx \frac{1}{6}\] and \[\mu  \propto \frac{{{\tau _{\rm{i}}}}}{{{\sigma _{\rm{y}}}}}\]

A consequence of these models is that films of low shear strength deliberately interposed between the surfaces lower μ considerably – this is the principle behind lubrication.