Origins of folding instabilities on polycrystalline metal surfaces
Wear and removal of material from polycrystalline metal surfaces is inherently connected to plastic flow. Here, plowing-induced unconstrained surface plastic flow on a nanocrystalline copper surface has been studied by massive molecular dynamics simulations and atomic force microscopy scratch experiments. In agreement with experimental findings, bulges in front of a model asperity develop into vortexlike fold patterns that mark the disruption of laminar flow. We identify dislocation-mediated plastic flow in grains with suitably oriented slip systems as the basic mechanism of bulging and fold formation. The observed folding can be fundamentally explained by the inhomogeneity of plasticity on polycrystalline surfaces which favors bulge formation on grains with suitably oriented slip system. This process is clearly distinct from Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities in fluids, which have been previously suggested to resemble the formed surface fold patterns. The generated prow grows into a rough chip with stratified lamellae that are identified as the precursors of wear debris. Our findings demonstrate the importance of surface texture and grain structure engineering to achieve ultralow wear in metals.