Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name



Mechanical, Automotive, and Materials Engineering


Applied sciences, Alloys, Aluminum-silicon, Surface damage


Ahmet T. Alpas


Thomas Perry




Al-Si alloys intended for use in engine components must operate under ultra-mild wear (UMW) conditions to fit an acceptable amount of wear during a typical vehicle life. This study simulated surface damage in a UMW regime on five chemically etched Al-Si alloy surfaces using a pin-on-disc tribometer at low loads (0.5-2.0 N) under boundary lubricated conditions. The five alloys contained 11 to 25 wt.% Si and differed in matrix hardness, silicon particle morphology, and size. The mechanisms leading to the UMW damage and the role that the matrix hardness and microstructure play on said mechanisms were studied. Quantitative measurement methods based on statistical analysis of particle height changes and material loss from elevated aluminum using a profilometer technique were developed and used to assess UMW.

The Greenwood and Tripp's numerical model was adapted to analyze the contact that occurred between Al-Si alloys with silicon particles protruding above the aluminum and steel balls. The estimation of the real contact pressure applied to the silicon particles was used to rationalize the damage mechanisms.

The UMW mechanisms consisted of (i) abrasive wear on the top of the silicon particle surfaces; (ii) sinking-in of the silicon particles; (iii) piling-up of the aluminium around sunken-in particles and (vi) wear of the aluminium by the counterface, which eventually led to the initiation of UMW-II. Increasing the size or areal density of silicon particles with small aspect ratios delayed the onset of UMW-II by providing resistance against the silicon particles sinking-in and the aluminum piling-up. The UMW wear rates, however, began to decrease after long sliding cycles once an oil residue layer supported by hardened ultra-fine subsurface grains formed on the deformed aluminium matrix. The layer formation depended on the microstructure and applied load. Overall experimental observations suggested that Al-11% Si with small silicon particles exhibited optimal long-term wear performance.