Little is known about the prevailing lubrication mechanisms in artificial articular joints and the way in which these mechanisms determine implant performance. The authors propose that interfacial film formation is determined by rheological changes local to the contact and is driven by aggregation of synovial fluid proteins within the contact inlet region. A direct relationship between contact film thickness and size of the protein aggregation within the inlet region has been observed. In this paper the latest experimental observations of the protein aggregation mechanism are presented for conditions which more closely mimic joint kinematics and loading. Lubricant films were measured for a series of bovine calf serum solutions for CoCrMo femoral component sliding against a glass disc. An optical interferometric apparatus was employed to study the effects of transient motion on lubricant film formation. Central film thickness was measured as a function of time for a series of transient entrainment conditions; start-up motion, steady-state and non-steady-state uni-directional sliding, and bi-directional sliding. The size of the inlet aggregations was found to be dependent upon the type of transient condition. Thick protective protein films were observed to build up within the main contact region for all uni-directional tests. In contrast the inlet aggregation was not observed for bi-directional tests. Contact film thickness and wear was found to be directly proportional to the presence of the inlet protein phase. The inlet phase and contact films were found to be fragile when disrupted by surface scratches or subjected to reversal of the sliding direction.
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