Tribology of Microball Bearing MEMS
Hanrahan, Brendan M
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This dissertation explores the fundamental tribology of microfabricated rolling bearings for future micro-machines. It is hypothesized that adhesion, rather than elastic hysteresis, dominates the rolling friction and wear for these systems, a feature that is unique to the micro-scale. To test this hypothesis, specific studies in contact area and surface energy have been performed. Silicon microturbines supported on thrust bearings packed with 285 µm and 500 µm diameter stainless steel balls have undergone spin-down friction testing over a load and speed range of 10-100mN and 500-10,000 rpm, respectively. A positive correlation between calculated contact area and measured friction torque was observed, supporting the adhesion-dominated hysteresis hypothesis. Vapor phase lubrication has been integrated within the microturbine testing scheme in a controlled and characterized manner. Vapor-phase molecules allowed for specifically addressing adhesive energy without changing other system properties. A 61% reduction of friction torque was observed with the utilization of 18% relative humidity water vapor lubrication. Additionally, the relationship between friction torque and normal load was shown to follow an adhesion-based trend, highlighting the effect of adhesion and further confirming the adhesion-dominant hypothesis. The wear mechanisms have been studied for a microfabricated ball bearing platform that includes silicon and thin-film coated silicon raceway/steel ball materials systems. Adhesion of ball material, found to be the primary wear mechanism, is universally present in all tested materials systems. Volumetric adhesive wear rates are observed between 4x10^-4 µm^3/mN*rev and 4x10^-5 µm3/mN*rev were determined by surface mapping techniques and suggest a self-limiting process. This work also demonstrates the utilization of an Off-The-Shelf (OTS) MEMS accelerometer to confirm a hypothesized ball bearing instability regime which encouraged the design of new bearing geometries, as well as to perform in situ diagnostics of a high-performance rotary MEMS device. Finally, the development of a 3D fabrication technique with the potential of significantly improving the performance of micro-scale rotary structures is described. The process was used to create uniform, smooth, curved surfaces. Micro-scale ball bearings are then able to be utilized in high-speed regimes where load can be accommodated both axially and radially, allowing for new, high-speed applications. A comprehensive exploration of the fundamental tribology of microball bearing MEMS has been performed, including specific experiments on friction, wear, lubrication, dynamics, and geometrical optimization. Future devices utilizing microball bearings will be engineered and optimized based on the results of this dissertation.