The processes of tribofilm formation and disruption and the predominant tribo-mechanisms of unlubricated ceramic materials were investigated experimentally. Sliding experiments in humidity controlled atmospheres revealed that the formation of interfacial tribofilms significantly affects the steady-state friction and wear properties of ceramics. Scanning electron microscopy and various composition analysis techniques demonstrated that although tribochemical reactions might occur, the principal mechanisms of tribofilm formation were the generation, agglomeration, and compaction of fine wear debris produced from both sliding surfaces. The tribofilms exhibited different tribological characteristics, depending on their elemental compositions and the humidity. For all the ceramic pairs tested, the steady-state coefficients of friction decreased with relative humidity. In contrast to the conventional fracture toughness approach, surface profilometry and microscopy studies showed that the highest wear rates were encountered with the toughest ceramic. Plowing grooves parallel to the direction of sliding, fine wear debris of round and cylindrical shapes, microcracking, and localized delamination of the tribofilms were identified. Microscopic observations suggested that damage of the subsurface material adjacent to the interface of the tribofilms was immeasurable. Qualitative comparison of the topographical features of worn surfaces indicated that, depending on the humidity and the type of ceramic, microplasticity, microfracture, and delamination of the tribofilms were the prevailing steady-state tribomechanisms.

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