Effect of interlayer thickness of ion-plated Pb-coating on its life (SUS440C substrates)

B. Subramonian, K. Kato, Koshi Adachi, K. S. Ramakrishnan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


High-precision ball bearings (SUS440C) used in spacecraft mechanisms that are exposed to deep space vacuum are solid lubricated by thin, adherent Pb ion-plated coatings. The high reliability requirements with long endurance life of these mechanisms solely depend on the tribological aspects of this solid-lubrication coating. Since ion-plated, soft metallic coatings have a graded coating-substrate interface structure, a gradual change in mechanical, chemical and thermal properties is expected across the depth of the coating. This aspect of the interlayer plays a major role in determining the extent of optimum tribological properties of the coating. By improving the interlayer, both in terms of increased thickness and concentration of Pb, a corresponding improvement in the lubricity and endurance life of this Pb ion-plated coating on AISI 440C stainless steel (bearing material) can be assured. For this, a detailed examination of the interlayer of the ion-plated Pb film on the nano-micro level is mandatory. This report is focused on the cross-sectional examination of the interlayer by scanning electron microscopy. SUS440C steel disk specimens having similar properties as the bearing material and with a thin, ion-plated Pb coating processed under two different substrate bias conditions of ion-plating are used. The thickness of the Pb/steel interlayer and the elemental composition are analyzed using SEM and EDS respectively. The endurance life of the coatings is measured by repeated sliding wear tests with a pin-on-disk tester in vacuum. It is confirmed that with an increased thickness of the graded interfacial layer of the Pb ion-plated coating, the coating endurance life is extended remarkably.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-325
Number of pages7
JournalTribology Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2003 Oct


  • Graded interlayer
  • Ion plating
  • Solid lubricant
  • Tribology


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