In most cases, scratching of the surface of a polymeric glass elicits brittle behavior and industrial solutions like coating have been successfully used to improve the scratch resistance. The origin of the success of the coating technique is still of great research interest since one of the limitations of this technique is the risk of cracking and chipping. In terms of interfacial adhesion characterization, a wide variety of methods have been used to assess this property of material systems. Nevertheless, the adhesion of coatings still remains to be successfully determined in a test which can reproduce the damage undergone by the coated surface during its real lifetime. In this context, scratch test constitutes a good candidate. The present study deals with the scratching technique as an interfacial adhesion measurement in coated systems.

Using a single-asperity scratching device allowing in-situ observation of the scratch, the fracture of a thin nano-composite coating deposited on its substrate was investigated under different conditions of temperature and scratching speed. Four types of fracture kinetics were observed depending on these two variables. One of these exhibits a stable blister growth at the same speed as the movement of the indenter over hundreds micrometers. This slow and extensive growth of a blister was obtained at 80 °C at a scratching speed of 10 μm/s. When the blister has reached a certain size, it propagates with the indenter without increasing further in size: it constitutes the steady state blister growth.

A variational form of the energy balance of a blistering process is proposed, which permits to assess the adhesion of the system. Actually, the energy spent in the delamination process can be determined by following the delaminated area during the blistering process with regard to the scratching distance. The main difficulty is to estimate the energy dissipated in plastic flow. Different tests were conducted with various indenters: spheres with different radius and roughness. Thanks to this multi-criterion approach, it was possible to fit a unique value of the adhesion in the case of experimental stable blistering growths. The results are discussed with regard to reliability and probe characteristics.

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