The rapid adoption of the advantageous PEEK and its composites paired with steel counterparts in many tribological applications has prompted intense research to investigate their tribological properties under lubrication. This study investigated the effect of oil-lubrication and proposed a mechanism of action. Compared to the dry conditions, oil-lubrication with poly-α-olefin (PAO) base oils reduced friction, regardless of the type of polymer materials. However, the wear behavior depended on the polymer type; it increased for neat PEEK and decreased for PEEK composites. Additionally, the viscosity of the lubricant oils influenced the polymer behavior in distinct ways. These differences in tribological performance under oil-lubrication were explained by two important factors, the polymer transfer films on steel counterparts determined by Electron Probe Micro Analysis (EPMA) and the hardness modification of the polymer surfaces investigated by nanoindentation measurements. These factors were also related to each other, especially for PEEK composites.
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