Friction is a force that resists relative motion between surfaces in contact. In the study of statics and dynamics, friction between contact surfaces is quantified using a dimensionless parameter called the coefficient of friction.
In this article, the focus is on exploring materials with the highest coefficients of friction, their applications across various industries, and conducting an in-depth analysis of the factors influencing this parameter.
Table of Contents
Defining The Highest Coefficient Of Friction
When two bodies come into direct contact and touch each other’s surfaces, their interaction can be described by two types of contact forces: normal force and frictional force.
The normal force is the force exerted perpendicular to the surfaces in contact. On the other hand, the frictional force is the resistance encountered when two surfaces move or attempt to move past each other; hence, it always acts in the direction opposite to this relative motion or attempted motion.
These contact forces are illustrated in the diagram below.
The magnitude of the force of friction depends on the normal force. The higher the normal force, the more friction there will be. In general, it was found that this relationship is linear, and the proportional constant that relates the two contact forces is called the coefficient of friction.
The higher the coefficient of friction, the higher the friction force will be, given a normal force.
Types Of Friction
The value of the coefficient of friction depends on the type of friction present in the system. In general, friction is divided into two types: kinetic and static.
Kinetic friction refers to friction experienced by surfaces that are already in relative motion with each other. In this case, the proportional constant between the friction force and the normal force is called the coefficient of kinetic friction, as shown in the following formula:
- fk = kinetic friction force [N]
- FN = normal force [N]
- μk = coefficient of kinetic friction [unitless]
On the other hand, static friction refers to friction that acts to prevent relative motion between two surfaces when an external force is applied. As the applied force is increased, the static friction force also increases to match it, until a point where the applied force is just enough to overcome the maximum static friction. At this point, the object will start to move, and static friction transitions to kinetic friction.
In this case, the proportional constant that relates the maximum static friction force to the normal force is called the coefficient of static friction, as shown in the following formula:
- fs = static friction force [N]
- μs = coefficient of static friction [unitless]
In general, the coefficient of static friction is greater than the coefficient of kinetic friction. This means that it is usually easier to maintain the movement of an object than to initiate its motion from a state of rest.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For instance, consider the aluminum-on-aluminum dry interface, where the kinetic coefficient of friction is 1.4, and the static coefficient of friction is 1.05, as shown in the table below.
It is important to note that the coefficient of friction is a relational property between two materials in contact, not an intrinsic property of a single material. Therefore, it can only be defined and measured in the context of two interacting surfaces.
Can Friction Coefficient Be Greater Than 1
Contact materials commonly have a coefficient of friction below 1. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that a coefficient of friction greater than 1 is also possible.
The coefficient of friction simply represents the ratio of friction force to the normal force. Hence, when the friction force exceeds the normal force, the coefficient of friction can be greater than 1. In such cases, the contact materials are generally considered slip-resistant.
Maximum Value Of The Coefficient Of Friction
The coefficient of friction is influenced by the microscopic properties of the materials in contact as well as other factors such as the local temperature, relative velocity, pressure, and surface structure. At the microscopic level, friction occurs due to electrostatic interactions between the electrical fields of the materials. This means that stronger electrostatic interactions lead to a higher coefficient of friction.
In theory, it is possible to bring atoms extremely close together without reaching a singularity, allowing for electrostatic interactions to approach infinity. Therefore, there is theoretically no limit to the coefficient of friction. It can potentially be infinite, constrained only by the physical limitations of atomic interactions.
Contact Materials With The Highest Coefficients Of Friction
Although there is theoretically no limit to the magnitude of the coefficient of friction, in reality, the highest observed coefficient of friction occurs between rubber and other solid materials. This coefficient can range from 1 to more than 4.
For example, consider the graphs below showing the coefficient of friction of rubber-on-glass and rubber-on-steel interfaces at various sliding speeds.
Some other contact materials with high coefficients of friction observed include silver on silver at 1.4, aluminum on aluminum at 1.05-1.35, platinum on platinum at 1.2, cast iron on cast iron at 1.1, copper on cast iron at 1.05, copper on copper at 1.0, iron on iron at 1.0, and steel on lead at 0.95.
Applications Of High Coefficients Of Friction
High coefficients of friction are desirable in applications where preventing slippage is important. Common applications include braking systems, tires, belt drives, climbing gear, and sports equipment.
Brakes depend on friction to transform the kinetic energy of the rotating wheel into heat in order to decelerate the vehicle. Therefore, a high coefficient of friction between the brake pads and the brake rotors is essential for optimal braking performance.
Similarly, tires require a sufficiently high coefficient of friction with the road surface to ensure secure grip and prevent slippage, thereby enhancing road safety. In the case of belt drives, a high coefficient of friction is important to prevent belt slippage and transmit power between rotating shafts more efficiently.
In sports equipment like golf clubs, baseball bats, and tennis rackets, a high coefficient of friction is needed to prevent them from slipping out of the player’s grasp. Additionally, climbing gear, such as ropes, relies on friction to protect climbers from dangerous slips.