Sliding wear of nitrided steels
The unlubricated sliding wear behaviour of gas nitrided, plasma nitrided, and ferritic nitrocarburized BS970,905M39 (EN41B) steels was investigated systematically from an engineering point of view. Commercial nitriding processes were employed, and the wear studies were carried out using a pin-on-disc machine over a wide range of sliding speeds and applied loads. The worn specimens and wear debris were examined by several techniques; including optical and electron microscopy and X-ray analysis. A sharp wear rate transition between mild and severe regimes was identified by varying the load for both untreated and gas nitrided steels. The wear rate was reduced by gas nitriding by up to two orders of magnitude, depending on the sliding condition. Moreover, gas nitriding expanded the mild wear region toward higher loads and sliding speeds. In the mild regime an oxidative wear mechanism operated, contrasting with the metallic wear in the severe regime. Wear maps for untreated and gas nitrided steels have been constructed, which show the dominant regimes of the wear mechanisms. A "wear-face-limited" gas nitrided pin test showed that the benefit of the treatment was lost once the effective surface layer was completely worn away. It is suggested that hardness has a crucial role in determining the wear rate through nitrided diffusion layers. A thick and porous compound layer produced by gas nitriding showed a poor wear behaviour owing to its brittleness, while a thin nitrocarburized E-Fe3N compound layer exhibited a low wear rate. There was no significant difference between the nitride steels in terms of transition load and wear rate. However, the wear lives of the nitrided layers were dependent on their case depth. Severe wear should be avoided in engineering component design, and operating conditions should ensure that only mild wear occurs. Both the hardness profiles and the cost performance of nitriding processes should be considered in the selection of nitriding treatments.