An analysis has been made of the kinetic friction between metals sliding under conditions of boundary lubrication. With mineral oils and many other lubricants an intermittent clutching and breaking away of the surfaces still occurs through the oil film. The friction, the surface temperature and the area of contact all show violent fluctuations and the behaviour may be essentially the same as with unlubricated metals. Certain substances, however, are able to prevent this “ stick-slip” motion and allow continuous sliding to take place. With short-chain fatty acids, for example, the motion is “ stick-slip”, but when the chain reaches a certain length continuous sliding occurs. Alcohols and saturated hydrocarbons of the same, or longer, chain length do not cause continuous sliding. Even with the best lubricant the film breaks down to some extent during sliding and some wear of the surfaces takes place. The metal is torn to a depth which is large compared with the dimensions of a molecule. The frictional force between lubricated metals must therefore be greatly influenced by the bulk properties of the metals concerned. The frictional behaviour of metallic surfaces covered with successive monolayers of lubricant has also been investigated. A single layer can cause a large reduction in the friction but the film is soon worn away. With multilayers the rate at which the film wears off is markedly dependent on its molecular thickness and methods are described for measuring the rate of wear of lubricant films. A single film of long-chain fatty acid molecules is more effective than a single film of the flat leaf-shaped cholesterol molecule. It is clear that a primary film is not sufficient, but that for effective boundary lubrication it is necessary to have present a layer of lubricant several molecules thick. The experiments show that boundary lubrication cannot be regarded as a purely surface phenomenon. On the basis of these experiments a theory has been put forward to explain boundary lubrication. In general it appears that even with lubricated surfaces the local pressures in the region of contact are very high, so that the lubricant film between the surfaces is partly broken down. If the sliding speeds are appreciable this breakdown is aided by the local high temperatures. Metallic junctions, the size of which is large compared with the dimensions of a molecule, are formed between the surfaces. There will, of course, be some resistance due to the interaction of the surface films themselves, but under many conditions of sliding the resistance to motion is due mainly to the force necessary to break the junctions. The frictional behaviour of boundary lubricated surfaces is therefore largely governed by the extent to which the lubricant film breaks down during sliding.
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- Received August 11, 1939.
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