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Wear 330-331 (2015) 193198

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Formation and breakdown of oil residue tribolms protecting

the valves of diesel engines
R. Elo n, S. Jacobson
ngstrm Tribomaterials Group, Department of Engineering Sciences, Uppsala University, Sweden

art ic l e i nf o a b s t r a c t

Article history: The contacting surfaces of modern valve systems experience a complex contact situation with repeated
Received 15 September 2014 micro sliding at high temperatures and pressures. The wear rate of the surfaces has to be extremely low
Received in revised form to fulll the high demands on engine efciency during its entire life-timewear will cause valve
20 January 2015
recession and thus make the combustion less efcient. In addition to this, legislation requires reduced
Accepted 27 January 2015
particulates in the emissions, which leads to aggravating conditions for the valves.
Studies of eld samples from well-functioning engines have shown that a protective tribolm is
Keywords: formed on the contacting surfaces of the valve. This tribolm is primarily built up from combustion
Internal combustion engines residues of the engine oil and fuel, making its composition sensitive to their additives.
Since the low wear rate is dependent on the formation of a tribolm based on oil residues, while
Wear protection
future legislation will demand even cleaner emissions, a deepened understanding about the formation
Lubricant additives
Tribolm and dynamics of these tribolms is needed. How quickly are they formed, how quickly do they wear, do
Test rig they require constant supply of building material, can they efciently protect the surfaces also when
substantially less building material is available?
In the present study, the formation and breakdown mechanisms of this type of protective tribolms
have been investigated in a specically designed valve rig. This rig uses real engine components and
allows controlled addition of oil mist (in the present case from a fully formulated engine oil) into a hot
air stream, passing the operating valve.
Four phases were identied in the tribolm dynamics. In the rstformationphase, oil residue
particles become trapped on the sealing surfaces of the valve, and then smeared out between the closing
surfaces to form a covering tribolm. In the secondequilibriumphase, the tribolm coverage is stable,
meaning that the addition of new particles is balanced by wear of the lm. Two types of lms form, one
thick carbon-based lm and one thinner additive-based lm. If the supply of oil is cut off, the third
breakdownphase commences. Here the carbon-based lm is quickly removed while the additive-based
lm keeps protecting the valve surface for numerous closing cycles. When also this lm become worn
through, the nal phasewear of exposed valve materialcommences, involving severe wear and
oxidization. Interestingly, it was found that the breakdown was slower if the equilibrium phase was
longer, indicating that the additive-based tribolm becomes more durable by being more worked.
& 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction The contacting surfaces of the valve experience a complex and

demanding contact situation. The closing of the valves involves a
In four stroke engines, the intake valves open to let air ow into relatively high impact against the valve seat. The valve head then
the combustion chamber and then close to facilitate the compres- buckles somewhat when the pressure steeply increases in the
sion and combustion of the fuel and air mixture. The exhaust combustion chamber. This shape change leads to micro sliding in
valves are closed during this phase, and then open to let the hot the sealing interface, typically in the range of 510 mm [2]. This sliding
combustion products ow out of the chamber, after which they motion has for long been considered one of the main causes of wear
close and the process is repeated [1]. [3]. Further, being positioned right next to the combustion also means
being subjected to high temperatures, especially so for the exhaust
valve, which is repeatedly passed by the hot combustion residues.
Wang et al. found that adhesive wear, abrasive wear, shear strain
Corresponding author. Tel.: 46 184717241. controlled wear and oxidation wear were predominant in a valve seat
E-mail address: (R. Elo). simulation test. They also found that the wear increased with
0043-1648/& 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
194 R. Elo, S. Jacobson / Wear 330-331 (2015) 193198

increased load and number of cycles but decreased with increasing create a contact situation similar to that of real engines. In the
temperature. This effect was acknowledged to be due to accelerated present investigation the valve seat inserts are made of an iron
formation of oxide lms, preventing direct metal to metal contact [4]. based material while the valves have a steel base with a Stellite F
When investigating the dependence from cycle numbers on the wear hard facing on the closing surface, according to the compositions
of valves, Chun et al. found that wear occurred due to direct contact presented in Table 1. The closing surfaces are tilted 451 relative to
between the base metals. Continued wear was then prevented when a the direction of the closing force. An intentional small mismatch
tribochemical reaction product layer formed by reaction between the between the valve and valve seat insert angles make sure that the
base metals, air and combustion products [5]. outer rim of the closing surfaces comes into contact rst. In the
To offer good performance during the entire lifetime of the engine, real engine, this is to avoid any opening force resulting from the
the wear rate of the valve surfaces has to be extremely low. The valve combustion pressure. The mismatch angle results in an initial thin
system is typically not exchanged, so it has to survive the full lifetime contact ring along the outer rim, which broadens towards the
of the engine, which for heavy-duty diesel engines is in the range of center, as the components adapt to each other during running in.
millions of kilometers. This corresponds to approximately one billion The oil used in the tests is a fully formulated, commercially
closing cycles for the valve. In the worst case, local wear of the valve available engine oil for heavy diesel engines, Scania LDF2 10W-40.
creates leakage from the combustion chamber. The leakage channel
rapidly becomes overheated, which leads to catastrophic wear. But
also an evenly distributed, slow wear of the valve surfaces is 2.2. Methods
unacceptable if it leads to a recession of the sealing position. This
changes the combustion volume and impairs the ow of gases The valves and valve seat inserts were run in the valve test rig
through the valves. The recession makes the combustion less efcient, detailed in [8], with the changes made to allow addition of oil mist
and therefore leads to increased fuel consumption. The negative effect into the gas ow according to [10], see Fig. 1. In short, the valve
of recession has been measured by Kent and Finnigan, showing that and valve seat insert is mounted in the rig with a spring pushing
recessions of 1 and 2 mm reduces the power output by 3% and 10%, the valve down into an open position. A pushrod closes the valve
respectively [6]. with a force of 20 kN at a frequency of 6 Hz. The system is heated
The valves used today manage to keep the required, extremely by two sources, one resistive heater mounted around the pushrod
low, wear rate partly due to the formation of a protective tribolm on (operating temperature 750 1C) and one hot air gun delivering
the contacting surfaces. The tribolm is primarily built up by residues about 500 l/min of air with a temperature of 600 1C. A spray nozzle
from the engine oil and fuel [7]. A test rig specically designed to allows controlled feeds of oil into the stream of hot air [10]. The
perform fundamental studies on real valve components, has been temperature, closing force and frequency were selected to repre-
employed in previous studies [810]. In its latest version, it has sent typical conditions in the engine.
proven capable of reproducing the type of tribolms found on eld To study the initial stages of tribolm formation, tests were run for
samples [9,10]. 10; 100; 1000; 10,000 and 100,000 closing/opening cycles with the
Since the tribolms are built up from combustion residues from addition of 0.5 ml/min engine oil into the hot air stream. To also study
the engine oil and the fuel, their composition and structure are the tribolm breakdown dynamics, samples were rst run for 10,000
sensitive to the amount and type of additives in oil and fuel. This or 100,000 cycles with the addition of engine oil mist, followed by
has been evident from samples run in the valve test rig [10] as well as another 1000 or 10,000 cycles, without the addition of oil. The
from eld samples [11]. intention of this test scheme was to investigate how well a newly
The demands for cleaner emissions with less particulate matter are formed tribolm can protect the surfaces once the supply of tribolm
escalating. Within the European Union, the legislation is according to forming elements is cut off. In a real engine, the valves are not
the euro classication of heavy-duty vehicles [12]. To fulll these intentionally lubricated, but get access to oil residue particles as engine
demands, the engine oil and fuel should preferably include less oil is pushed up into the combustion chamber by the piston rings or
additives, since these often are not fully combusted, but form particles. leaks down through the valve guiding system. This creates a situation
A byproduct of such an improvement is that the supply of building where the access to oil residue particles varies depending on driving
material for the protective tribolms decreases, which may lead to a style, t between components and other parameters such as tem-
reduced protection of the sealing surfaces and therefore an intensied perature of the oil. The variation might not be as denite as on or off,
wear and possibly premature engine failure. These changes constitute
Table 1
a great challenge for engine developers and valve producers. How
Composition of the contacting surfaces of the valve and VSI. Elements included, but
shall the current, extremely low wear rates be kept when the supply of in small percentages, are marked with X [wt%].
primary building blocks of the tribolm becomes strongly reduced?
In previous studies by the present authors, the valve surfaces Cr Ni Fe Co C Si W Mn Mo V
have been studied either when the tribolms have been fully
Valve 25 22 X Bal. X X 15
formed or when the valve couple has started to wearindicating VSI 7 Bal. X X 12 4
that the tribolms have been removed. This has provided a lot of
valuable information but limited insights into the dynamics of the
formation and breakdown of the tribolms. To achieve such
insights, the current study also includes tests simulating the initial
processes, when the tribolm is rst formed, and conditions
where established lms are expected to wear off or break down.

2. Materials and methods

2.1. Materials
Fig. 1. Schematic view of the set-up showing the oil delivery system and position
A test rig based around exhaust valves, valve seat inserts (VSI) of the valve (1), the valve seat insert (2), the pushrod (3) and the resistive heater
and a valve guiding system from a truck engine have been used to (4). The arrow indicates the movement of the valve. [10].
R. Elo, S. Jacobson / Wear 330-331 (2015) 193198 195

but the results can still give valuable information about the formation The thicknesses were measured either in cross-sections or
and breakdown of the tribolms. approximated from the SEM images. The exact values vary
After the tests, the general appearance of the valve and valve between different positions, but the carbon-based lm is always
seat insert surfaces was studied with light optical microscopy. The much thicker than the additive-based lm.
valve surfaces were further studied with scanning electron micro- When valves covered by tribolms established under the oil
scopy (SEM) combined with energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy mist conditions were further run without the oil supply, a break-
(EDS) to analyze the elemental composition. down phase commenced. The thick carbon-based lms were
quickly removed, leaving almost no traces on any of the samples.
The additive-based lms, however, were considerably more stable.
3. Results They partially exhibited a aking off behavior. Once all tribolm
was removed, the exposed metallic valve surfaces were rapidly
Four distinct phases of the formation and breakdown processes worn, see Fig. 4.
were observed. Initially, after the rst 10 or 100 cycles run under Samples run for 10,000 and 100,000 cycles with the ow of oil
the oil mist condition, very limited tribolm had formed. After mist followed by another 10,000 cycles without, exhibit a sig-
1000 cycles, a partially covering tribolm had formed. In some nicant difference. The sample run for fewer cycles with oil has no
areas it consisted only of sparsely distributed particlestypically tribolm left and is heavily worn, while the sample run longer in
smaller than 1 mm in diameter. In other areas the trapped particles the equilibrium phase still has a fully covering tribolm and is
had agglomerated and become smeared out, to cover larger parts seemingly still well protected from wear, see Fig. 5.
of the contacting surface, as shown in Fig. 2.
When the contacting surfaces become more or less fully
covered by tribolm and oil is still added to the hot air stream, 4. Discussion
the formation comes into an equilibrium phase. No gradual
increase of the thickness is noticeable, indicating that the lm The present set of experiments has allowed unique insights
growth is balanced by lm wear. In this phase two types of into the dynamics of formation and breakdown of the protective
tribolms can be observed, see Fig. 3, a thick carbon-based lm tribolms on the valve surfaces. Naturally, the exact number of
with a thickness in the range of tens of mm and a thinner, less than cycles in the different phases is only representative for the present
2 mm, additive-based lm dominated by calcium and phosphorous. test conditions. However, we now have a rst rough indication of

Fig. 2. Typical appearance of the initial stages of tribolm formation on the valve surface, here after 1000 cycles with addition of oil mist. The horizontal lines are remaining
grinding marks. The counter surface has slid downwards as the valve closes. Left: particles smaller than 1 mm have become trapped on the surface, but still do not form a
continuous lm. Right: particles have agglomerated and become smeared out to partially cover larger pars of the surface. SEM.

Fig. 3. Equilibrium phase when tribolms cover most of the contacting surfaces. The counter surface has slid downwards as the valve closes. Left: thick carbon-based
tribolm on valve run 10,000 cycles under oil mist conditions. Right: thinner additive-based tribolm dominated by calcium and phosphorous seen to the upper right of the
thick carbon-based lm in lower left. Valve run for 100,000 cycles under oil mist conditions. SEM.
196 R. Elo, S. Jacobson / Wear 330-331 (2015) 193198

Fig. 4. Breakdown of tribolms after the oil ow has been cut off. The counter surface has slid downwards as the valve closes. Left: additive-based lm slowly aking off,
revealing unworn grinding marks from manufacturing. Valve run for 10,000 cycles with oil followed by 1000 without. Right: only small (darker) patches of tribolm are left,
and the exposed valve surface has started to deform and oxidize. Sample run for 10,000 cycles with oil followed by 10,000 without. SEM.

Fig. 5. After 10,000 cycles without oil mist, difference in stability of the tribolms results in either severe wear and oxidation of the base material (left) or a seemingly intact
additive-based tribolm protecting on the valve (right). The counter surface has slid downwards as the valve closes. Left: sample run for 10,000 cycles with oil followed by
10,000 without oil mist. Right: sample run for 100,000 cycles with oil followed by 10,000 without. SEM.

how long it may take to form, stabilize or wear down a lm. As 3. When the supply of oil mist is cut off, the lms start to break
mentioned, real engines do not have a controlled supply of oil (or down. The thick carbon lm is obviously quickly removed, and
particles) to the valve surfaces. The ow will however shift, e.g. as almost none of it could be found after 1000 closing cycles. The
an effect of the varying driving cycles (cold start, high power, additive lm is substantially more stable. A slower breakdown
idling, etc.), or more due to varying t between components. Here, mechanism involving local aking off exposed the underlying
these variations have been replaced by a simplied scheme; start valve metal surface. In the revealed areas, the grinding marks
from clean, unused, preheated surfaces, followed by running at from the manufacturing are still intact, indicating that the lm
constant conditions with constant supply of oil mist, and nally rapidly offered protection during the formation stage and kept
continued running without any oil mist supply. When running this doing so even while locally failing.
scheme, we can divide the dynamics into four distinct phases: 4. Finally, when the additive lm is more or less completely
removed, the exposed valve surfaces become heavily worn,
1. Initially, scattered particles from the oil mist become trapped showing severely deformed surfaces consisting of oxidized
between the closing valve surfaces. As more particles become metal. It was noted that two of the phases could be simulta-
trapped, they agglomerate and become partly smeared out, neously active on different areas of the same sample. For
thereby forming a gradually more covering lm. Probably the example, on one side of the valve, the tribolm could be in
smearing and compaction process is due to a combination of the breakdown phase, while on the other side it was already
the closing pressure and the micro sliding between the valve removed and the valve wear phase had commenced.
2. When a major part of the surfaces has become covered, an
equilibrium phase is reached. The lm thickness stays relatively The described phases are naturally closely linked to the present
constant, and as long as new oil particles are supplied, the test scheme. In parts the knowledge gained may be extrapolated to
surfaces stay covered and protected from wear. Two types of more realistic conditions. For instance:
tribolms can be observed, one carbon-based and one additive-
based, dominated by calcium and phosphorous, but to a lesser  Under conditions with a ow of oil residue particles, a partly
extent also including other elements, such as oxygen and covering tribolm may form in relatively few cycles.
carbon. The carbon lm is thicker, tens of mm, while the  The metallic surfaces keep relatively unharmed during these
additive lm is less than 2 mm thick. cycles.
R. Elo, S. Jacobson / Wear 330-331 (2015) 193198 197

Fig. 6. Schematic view of the phases of tribolm growth, equilibrium thickness and coverage (growth balancing wear), and breakdown, in the present test. Tribolms that
experienced more cycles in the equilibrium phase showed a slower breakdown than those that experienced less cycles, as illustrated by square and round markers

 The additive-based tribolm offers very good protection, 4. Wear of exposed valve materialEventually the protective tri-
improving with increasing formation time. bolm locally becomes worn through, leading to severe wear
 The thickness of the tribolm reaches equilibrium. Probably and oxidization of the valve surface.
this is due to the addition of new particles being balanced by
gradual wear. (In the present tests the lm reaches this Interestingly, the protective qualities of the additive tribolm
thickness during the rst 10,000 of cycles, but does not grow were distinctly improved by prolonging the equilibrium phase, i.e.
noticeably the following 90,000 cycles). running the samples for more cycles while having the supply of oil
 Once all tribolm is lost, the valve surfaces quickly become mist passing the valve. Obviously this made an already fully
ruined. covering additive-based lm more durable. The carbon-based lm
seems to have very weak protective properties, and is rapidly lost
A schematic view of the transition between the phases, and the once the oil mist supply is turned off.
rates of tribolm formation and breakdown, based on the limited The present results are unique in giving information about the
experimental data, is presented in Fig. 6. Of course the exact wear resistance and protective properties of these type of tribo-
numbers are far from exact, and should not be generalized to other lms. It has since long been known that they offer wear protection
conditions, but still these estimates give an indication of the in engines, in situations when the formation cannot be separated
dynamics of the protective tribolm on valves. from the breakdown stages. Now it is also shown that they offer an
The simplied test set up involves some limitations that should efcient protection over large number of cycles also when no
be kept in mind when evaluating the results. Possibly the most formation is possible. This suggests an opportunity to use different
important is the fact that there is no real combustion involved. forms of controlled formation stages to maintain an established
However, the present kind of detailed studies, with interruptible initial protective tribolm. This might offer a solution to the
low-cycle tests and independent control of the oil ow, are not challenge of keeping a very long wear life while radically reducing
possible in an engine cell test and even less so in eld tests. This the emission of particulate matter.
and the fact that the rig is able to recreate the same type of
tribolms as found on eld samples, gives condence that the
results are valid and representative of real engines. Acknowledgments

The nancial support from FFIStrategic vehicle research

5. Conclusion and innovation, through Contract no. 2011-03653 is thankfully
The dynamics of the formation and breakdown processes of Our co-workers at Scania AB are thankfully acknowledged for
protective tribolms on the closing surfaces of engine exhaust generously providing test specimens and sharing their experience.
valves have been observed in a valve test rig. Four phases were
identied. The rst two occur while tribolm forming elements
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