When a material is subjected to repeated sliding contact, a surface fatigue and crack nucleation may occur on its surface. This damage weakens the material and can lead to debris formation. In many practical engineering assemblies, a thin PEEK (poly-ether-ether-ketone) coating is applied to reduce the damage, since PEEK exhibits wear resistance, corrosion resistance self-lubricating capacity and is lightweight. However, little is known about the effect of coating thickness on the plastic deformation, residual stresses and energy dissipation of PEEK when placed under sliding load. Moreover, the effect of substrate rigidity on coating stresses and deformation under sliding load are also under-researched. Having such knowledge is of significant importance in order to reduce damage of engineering parts and extend their lifetime.

In this study, the effects of PEEK coating thickness and substrate elasticity were analyzed using a 3D ball-on-flat finite element model as well as experimental analysis using a linear reciprocating tribometer. The experimental tests were performed with samples that incorporated PEEK coatings of various thicknesses on alumina and steel substrates. It was found that under a constant normal load, stresses, strain and energy dissipation were sensitive to both substrate material and coating thickness. It is shown from both simulation and experiment, the optimum combination, within the range the experiments were conducted, for minimizing residual stress and possible fatigue damage was an alumina substrate with 35μm PEEK coating thickness.

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