Over the past twenty years or so, there have been major steps forward both in the understanding of tribological mechanisms and in the development of new coating and treatment techniques to better “engineer” surfaces to achieve reductions in wear and friction. Particularly in the coatings tribology field, improved techniques and theories which enable us to study and understand the mechanisms occurring at the “nano”, “micro” and “macro” scale have allowed considerable progress to be made in (for example) understanding contact mechanisms and the influence of “third bodies” [1–5]. Over the same period, we have seen the emergence of the discipline which we now call “Surface Engineering”, by which, ideally, a bulk material (the ‘substrate’) and a coating are combined in a way that provides a cost-effective performance enhancement of which neither would be capable without the presence of the other. It is probably fair to say that the emergence and recognition of Surface Engineering as a field in its own right has been driven largely by the availability of “plasma”-based coating and treatment processes, which can provide surface properties which were previously unachievable. In particular, plasma-assisted (PA) physical vapour deposition (PVD) techniques, allowing wear-resistant ceramic thin films such as titanium nitride (TiN) to be deposited on a wide range of industrial tooling, gave a step-change in industrial productivity and manufactured product quality, and caught the attention of engineers due to the remarkable cost savings and performance improvements obtained. Subsequently, so-called 2nd- and 3rd-generation ceramic coatings (with multilayered or nanocomposite structures) have recently been developed [6–9], to further extend tool performance — the objective typically being to increase coating hardness further, or extend hardness capabilities to higher temperatures.

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