The ongoing trend for using ever lower viscosities of lubricating oils, with the aim of improving the efficiency of mechanical systems, means that machine components are required to operate for longer periods under thin film, mixed lubrication conditions where the risk of surface damage is increased. For this reason, the role of zinc dialkyldithiophosphate (ZDDP) antiwear lubricant additive has become increasingly important in order to provide adequate surface protection. It is known that due to its exceptional effectiveness in reducing surface wear, ZDDP may promote micropitting by preventing adequate running-in of the contacting surfaces. However, the relationship between ZDDP tribofilm growth rate and the evolution of micropitting has not been directly demonstrated. To address this, we report the development of a novel technique using MTM-SLIM to obtain micropitting and observe ZDDP tribofilm growth in parallel throughout a test. This is then applied to investigate the effect of ZDDP concentration and type on micropitting.
It is found that oils with higher ZDDP concentrations produce more micropitting but less surface wear and that, at a given concentration, a mixed primary-secondary ZDDP results in more severe micropitting than a primary ZDDP. Too rapid formation of a thick antiwear tribofilm early in the test serves to prevent adequate running-in of sliding parts, which subsequently leads to higher asperity stresses and more asperity stress cycles and consequently more micropitting. Therefore, any adverse effects of ZDDP on micropitting and surface fatigue in general are mechanical in nature and can be accounted for through ZDDP’s influence on running-in and resulting asperity stress history. The observed correlation between antiwear film formation rate and micropitting should help in the design of oil formulations that extend component lifetime by controlling both wear and micropitting damage.