Tribological Properties and Microstructure Evolution of Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene

[+] Author and Article Information
C. Klapperich, K. Komvopoulos, L. Pruitt

Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720

J. Tribol 121(2), 394-402 (Apr 01, 1999) (9 pages) doi:10.1115/1.2833952 History: Received January 15, 1998; Revised May 14, 1998; Online January 24, 2008


The friction and wear properties of unmodified ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) were investigated experimentally. Dinks of semicrystalline UHMWPE were slid against polished CoCrWNi pins in bovine serum at ranges of contact pressure and sliding speed typical of those encountered in total joint replacements. The coefficient of friction was monitored continuously during testing, and the wear rate was determined from surface profilometry measurements of worn disk surfaces accounting for strain relaxation. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) results demonstrated that surface deterioration comprises adhesion, third-body abrasion by polyethylene wear debris, and delamination wear. The contribution of these mechanisms to the overall wear rate and the formation of wear debris depends predominantly on the contact pressure and secondarily on the sliding speed. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) yielded new insight into the evolution of the microstructure morphology of UHMWPE during sliding. Cross sections parallel to the wear tracks obtained from various depths were analyzed with the TEM to develop a spatial mapping of the subsurface microstructure as a function of contact pressure. Alignment of crystalline regions (lamellae) in the polyethylene microstructure parallel to the sliding surface was found to occur during sliding even at relatively low contact pressures. SEM observations suggested that the highly oriented microstructure is the precursor to delamination wear, leading to the formation of wear particles larger than those produced by adhesion and third-body abrasion at the contact interface.

Copyright © 1999 by The American Society of Mechanical Engineers
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