Transition metal dichalcogenides (TMD) are increasingly popular due to unique structural and mechanical properties. They belong, together with graphene and similar 2D materials, to small family of solid lubricants with potential to produce ultra-low friction state. At the macroscale, low friction stems from the ability to form well-oriented films on the sliding surface (typically up to 10 nm thick), with the TMD basal planes aligned parallel to the surface. In this paper, we quantitatively evaluate tribological properties of three sputtered tungsten-sulfur-carbon (W-S-C) coatings at a nanoscale using friction force microscopy. In particular, we investigate possible formation of well-ordered tungsten disulfide (WS2) layers on the coating surface. The coefficient of friction decreased with increasing load independently of coating composition or mechanical properties. In contrast, hard coatings with high tungsten carbide content were more resistant to wear. We successfully identified a WS2 tribolayer at the sliding interface, which peeled off as ultrathin flakes and attached to AFM tip. Nanoscale tribological behaviour of WSC coatings replicates deviation of Amonton’s law observed in macroscale testing and strongly suggests that the tribolayer is formed almost immediately after the start of sliding.
- Atomic force microscopy
- X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy
- Nanoscale friction
- Magnetron sputtering
- tungsten-sulfur-carbon coatings
- self-adaptive coatings