Assistant professors Natasha Vermaak and Brandon Krick are interested in improving the wear resistance of composite materials. Their recently awarded NSF grant, entitled Topology Optimization for Wear of Composite Materials, will provide funds to fuel their research.

Mechanical devices have numerous joints, bushings and bearings that must operate reliably with low friction and wear to ensure acceptable device lifetime and performance. The costs of friction and wear are estimated to be greater than $500 billion per year in the United States alone. This financial impact is compounded by the irreversible environmental factors of material and energy waste. In this award a new design paradigm will be developed to optimize the tribological, structural, and thermal performance and properties of composite systems through the arrangement of materials. Topology optimization is a powerful mathematical design tool that determines configurations of materials optimized for performance. The performance metrics and properties of interest include wear, surface topography, friction, density, cost, thermal conductivity and electrical conductivity.

Specifically, this research project is focused on a new design optimization framework capable of designing composite materials for applications involving sliding wear. Sliding interfaces in many engineered systems must be multifunctional, prompting the need to optimize for a range of thermomechanical and tribological processes and properties. Several strategies will be explored to integrate fabrication information in the design optimization process. Experiments establishing relationships and links between processing or manufacturing parameters and wear characteristics are planned. The objective is to produce experimentally validated wear models that include coupled multi-physics formulations (relating contact pressures, temperatures, and wear topography). These experimental investigations will feed into the development of a holistic topology optimization framework for the wear of composites.