Scientists from the University of Freiburg in Germany and the University of Pittsburgh have developed a software platform that facilitates and standardizes the analysis of surfaces. The contact.engineering platform allows users to create a digital twin of a surface, thus helping to predict, for example, how quickly it will corrode, how well it conducts heat, or how well it adheres to other materials. The team included Michael Rutger from the Department of Microsystems Engineering, Lars Pastuka and Antoine Sanner from the Department of Microsystems Engineering and the livMatS group at the University of Freiburg, and Tevis Jacobs from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of Pittsburgh. Swanson School of Engineering.
Terrain affects the properties of materials
All engineered materials have a surface roughness, even if they appear smooth when seen with the naked eye. When viewed under a microscope, they resemble the surfaces of a mountain landscape. “It is particularly important, in both industrial applications and scientific research, to have an accurate knowledge of surface topography, as this affects properties such as adhesion, friction, wettability, and durability of a material,” says Pastioca.
Save time and cost in manufacturing
Manufacturers must carefully control the finish of surfaces, for example, automobiles or medical devices to ensure proper performance for the end application. Nowadays, the optimum surface finish is found primarily through a trial and error process, in which a series of components are manufactured with different manufacturing practices and their properties are then tested to determine the best. This is a slow and expensive process. “It would be more efficient to use scientific models to design the optimal terrain for a given application, but this is not currently possible,” Jacobs says. “It will require scientific advances in relating terrain to properties, and technical advances in measuring and describing the surface.”
The contact.engineering platform facilitates both these developments and standardizes the procedure: it automatically integrates different data from different tools, corrects measurement errors, and uses the data to create a digital surface twin. The platform calculates statistical metrics and applies mechanical models to surfaces, helping to predict behavior. “Users can therefore identify the topographical features that influence the properties. This allows for a systematic improvement of the finishing processes,” says Pastioca.
Facilitate open science
The software platform also serves as a database through which users can share their measurements with colleagues or collaborators. Users can also choose to make their surface measurements publicly available. When the data is published, a digital object identifier (DOI) is generated that can be referenced in scholarly publications.
“We are constantly developing contact engineering and would like to add more analysis tools, for example for the chemical composition of surfaces,” says Pastioca. “The goal is to provide users with as comprehensive a digital twin as possible. That is why we also welcome suggestions for improvements to the software platform from users in industry and research.”
The development of contact.engineering was funded by the European Research Council and the US National Science Foundation, as well as from the Group of Excellence in Living, Adaptive and Energy Independent Materials Systems (livMatS) of the University of Freiburg.