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Evolution of Wear Characteristics and Frictional Behavior in MEMS Devices


A surface-micromachined nanotractor device has been used to investigate the tribological behavior of MEMS devices made of polycrystalline silicon. An accelerated wear test, spanning several hundreds of thousands of cycles, was developed to monitor the evolution of wear characteristics and frictional behavior during its operational lifetime. Postmortem microscopic observations of the wear surfaces revealed features that can be categorized into two regimes of wear: (i) adhesion-dominated wear and (ii) third-body wear. The former was characterized by asperity blunting, plastic deformation of asperity peaks, and smearing of fine wear debris into a thin-surface film. With an increased number of wear cycles, the wear mechanism transitioned to the latter regime which consisted of debris agglomeration and material removal through scratches induced by these agglomerates. Finally, it was theorized that one of the agglomerates grows to a large size, adheres to one of the contact surfaces and causes severe wear in a localized region on the counter surface to lock the two surfaces and cause device failure.

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The authors sincerely acknowledge the staff of Microelectronics Development Laboratory at Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, NM for fabrication and processing of the devices. Acknowledgements are also due to Mr. Michael Rye who assisted in SEM characterization of the wear surfaces. Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin Company, for the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration under contract DE-AC04-94AL85000. Finally, the authors are thankful to the anonymous reviewer who has provided insightful comments for improvements to the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ghatu Subhash.

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Subhash, G., Corwin, A.D. & de Boer, M.P. Evolution of Wear Characteristics and Frictional Behavior in MEMS Devices. Tribol Lett 41, 177–189 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11249-010-9696-z

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  • MEMS devices
  • Friction mechanisms
  • Wear mechanisms