New infinitely variable transmission (IVT) systems are under development for the automotive industry as a means to achieving significant fuel economy benefits. These systems rely on the lubricating fluid to transmit the drive train loads across the interface of the transmission components. This requires the development of new fluids that exhibit high traction properties under elastohydrodynamic lubrication (EHL) conditions. However, it has been reported recently that the traction performance of some fluids can reduce dramatically as temperature is reduced. This may place severe operational limits on IVT systems and suggests that the low-temperature traction properties of fluids for these systems should be studied in order to understand the mechanism for the observed reduction in traction.
The work reported here is an experimental study aimed at identifying whether low temperature traction reduction is related to a fundamental change in rheological behavior specific to the fluids tested or to more generic changes in the EHL contact conditions. A series of model experiments were performed using a mini traction machine (MTM) on three high-viscosity polybutene samples. The results have been mapped against previously reported non-dimensional parameters used to identify different EHL regimes. The results show that dramatic reductions in traction occur when the contact transitions from the rigid piezo-viscous (RP) toward the rigid iso-viscous (RI) region. Similar results were also found for two other high-viscosity fluids of different molecular structure and lower traction properties. The results support the hypothesis that the reduction in traction observed at low temperature is due to a change in EHL contact conditions rather than being solely due to a change in the rheological performance of the test fluids.