Tribological characterization of zirconia coatings deposited on Ti6Al4V components for orthopedic applications

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One of the most important issues leading to the failure of total joint arthroplasty is related to the wear of the plastic components, which are generally made of ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE). Therefore, the reduction of joint wear represents one of the main challenges the research in orthopedics is called to address nowadays. Surface treatments and coatings have been recognized as innovative methods to improve tribological properties, also in the orthopedic field. This work investigated the possibility to realize hard ceramic coatings on the metal component of a prosthesis, by means of Pulsed Plasma Deposition, in order to reduce friction and wear in the standard coupling against UHMWPE. Ti6Al4V substrates were coated with a 2 μm thick yttria-stabilized zirconia (YSZ) layer. The mechanical properties of the YSZ coatings were assessed by nanoindentation tests performed on flat Ti6Al4V substrates. Tribological performance was evaluated using a ball-on-disk tribometer in dry and lubricated (i.e. with fetal bovine serum) highly-stressing conditions, up to an overall distance of 10 km. Tribology was characterized in terms of coefficient of friction (CoF) and wear rate of the UHMWPE disk. After testing, specimens were analyzed through optical microscopy and SEM images, in order to check the wear degradation mechanisms. Progressive loading scratch tests were also performed in dry and wet conditions to determine the effects of the environment on the adhesion of the coating. Our results supported the beneficial effect of YSZ coating on metal components. In particular, the proposed solution significantly reduced UHMWPE wear rate and friction. At 10 km of sliding distance, a wear rate reduction of about 18% in dry configuration and of 4% in presence of serum, was obtained by the coated group compared to the uncoated group. As far as friction in dry condition is concerned, the coating allowed to maintain low CoF values until the end of the tests, with an overall difference of about 40% compared to the uncoated balls. In wet conditions, the friction values were found to be comparable between coated and uncoated materials, mainly due to a premature delamination of the coating. Scratch tests in wet showed in fact a reduction of the critical load required to a complete delamination due to a formation of blister, although no change or damage occurred at the coating during the soaking period. Although conditions of high values of contact pressure were considered, further analyses are however required to fully understand the behavior of YSZ coatings in wet environment and additional research on the deposition process will be mandatory in order to improve the coating tribological performance at long distances addressing orthopedic applications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)643-655
Number of pages13
JournalMaterials Science and Engineering C
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2016


  • Ball-on-disk
  • Ceramic coating
  • Friction coefficient
  • Pulsed plasma deposition
  • Titanium alloy
  • Ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene
  • Wear

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Mechanics of Materials


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