This work shows the influence of solid–liquid interactions between engineering surfaces (steel and several types of DLC coatings) and lubricating oil (polyalphaolefin, PAO) on the coefficient of friction in the elastohydrodynamic lubrication (EHL) regime. Specifically, it confirms that the spreading parameter, rather than the contact angle, is the relevant parameter to evaluate the wetting behaviour of these surfaces with oils. Both the spreading parameter and the surface energy correlate very well with the friction in the EHL regime and can predict its behaviour. In particular, the polar component of the surface energy was found to correlate almost perfectly with the friction behaviour (a Pearson’s linear correlation coefficient of 0.999). By tailoring the wetting and surface energy—achieved by varying the DLC/DLC contacts with different types of DLC coatings—the coefficient of friction in the EHL regime was reduced by more than 30 % compared to steel/steel contacts. Poor wetting of the DLC coatings with a low surface energy is reflected in low values of the spreading parameter, which indicates easier slip of the lubricant over the solid surface due to shear action, and this leads to a lower viscous friction. A “Slip-inducing interaction model based on surface forces” is presented to explain why oil slip is promoted, particularly at surfaces with a low polar surface energy. The model suggests that a small number of permanent polar interactions, i.e. a larger proportion of intermittent dispersive interactions, results in less adhesive interactions between the predominantly non-polar liquid (oil) and the low polar surface (DLC), which enables easier slip at the solid–liquid interface.
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