An experimental test rig was developed in order to investigate elastic–plastic single micro-spherical contact under combined normal and tangential loading. This novel apparatus allows in situ and real time direct optical measurement of the real contact area (RCA) evolution in pre-sliding. It also allows relative displacement measurements under very low rates of tangential loading (down to 0.01 N/s) to capture accurately the fine details at sliding inception. This is achieved by piezoelectric actuation in closed loop feedback control in addition to synchronization with data and image acquisition to obtain real time measurement. The RCA measurement is realized by direct optical observation technique, whereas two different image processing algorithms were implemented for the elastic and the elastic–plastic contact regimes. The various features and capabilities of the test rig are presented along with some preliminary experimental results of RCA and friction behavior to assess its performance.
spherical contact elastic–plastic contact real contact area in situ real time measurement image processing