Inverse problem of manufacturing is studied under a framework of high performance manufacturing of components with functional surface layer, where controllable generation of surface integrity is emphasized due to its pivotal role determining final performance. Surface modification techniques capable of controlling surface integrity are utilized to verify such a framework of manufacturing, by which the surface integrity desired for a high performance can be more effectively achieved as reducing the material and geometry constraints of manufacturing otherwise unobtainable during conventional machining processes. Here, thermal spraying of WC–Ni coatings is employed to coat stainless steel components for water-lubricated wear applications, on which a strategy for direct problem from process to performance is implemented with surface integrity adjustable through spray angle and inert N2 shielding. Subsequently, multiple surface integrity parameters can be evaluated to identify the major ones responsible for wear performance by elucidating the wear mechanism, involving surface features (coating porosity and WC phase retention) and surface characteristics (microhardness, elastic modulus, and toughness). The surface features predominantly determine tribological behaviors of coatings in combination with the surface characteristics that are intrinsically associated with the surface features. Consequently, the spray process with improved N2 shielding is designed according to the desired surface integrity parameters for higher wear resistance. It is demonstrated that the correlations from processes to performance could be fully understood and established via controllable surface integrity, facilitating solution to inverse problem of manufacturing, i.e., realization of a material and geometry integrated manufacturing.

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