Experimental and numerical tribological studies of a boundary lubricant functionalized poro-viscoelastic PVA hydrogel in normal contact and sliding

Michelle M. Blum, Timothy C. Ovaert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Hydrogels are a cross-linked network of polymers swollen with liquid and have the potential to be used as a synthetic replacement for local defects in load bearing tissues such as articular cartilage. Hydrogels display viscoelastic time dependent behavior, therefore experimental analysis of stresses at the surface and within the gel is difficult to perform. A three-dimensional model of a hydrogel was developed in the commercial finite element software ABAQUS™, implementing a poro-viscoelastic constitutive model along with a contact-dependent flow state and friction conditions. Water content measurements, sliding, and indentation experiments were performed on neat polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), and on low friction boundary lubricant functionalized (BLF-PVA) hydrogels, both manufactured by freeze-thaw processes. Modulus results from the indentation experiments and coefficient of friction values from the sliding experiments were used as material property inputs to the model, while water content was used to calculate initial flow conditions. Tangential force and normal displacement data from a three-dimensional simulation of sliding were compared with the experiments. The tangential force patterns indicated important similarities with the fabricated hydrogels that included an initially high force value due to time dependent deformation followed by a decrease in a stabile value. A similar trend was observed with the normal displacement. These comparisons rendered the model suitable as a representation and were used to analyze the development and propagation of stresses in the immediate surface region. The results showed that in a three-dimensional stress field during sliding, the maximum stress shifted to the surface and rotated closer to the leading edge of contact. This occurred because the stress field becomes dominated by an amplified compressive stress at the leading edge due to the biphasic viscoelastic response of the material during sliding. Also, the complex multi-axial contact stress field was reduced to focus predominately on stress in the contact surface region in the direction of sliding. The results showed that during biphasic viscoelastic frictional sliding, the maximum tensile stress develops at the trailing edge of contact and a compressive stress develops at the leading edge in the direction of motion. The BLF-PVA hydrogels displayed a decrease in this tensile and compressive stress as compared to the standard PVA. The diminishment of these stresses would be expected to give the BLF-PVA hydrogels lower material wear with greater life expectancy as a synthetic articular cartilage implant.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)248-258
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Constitutive modeling
  • Finite element analysis
  • Friction
  • Hydrogel
  • Indentation
  • Poro-viscoelastic
  • Sliding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomaterials
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Mechanics of Materials


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