A study of contact between a profile meter stylus and polymer films on roughened substrates

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Virginia Tech

When a polymer film is deposited onto a roughened substrate, the film masks over the underlying substrate roughness. Then when attempting to measure the roughness of the polymer film surface using a stylus-type profile meter, the pressure between the tip of the stylus and the film is sufficient to plastically deform the polymer surface. The result is a possible erroneous measurement of the surface roughness of the polymer film. This thesis reports on attempts to quantify the actual roughness of the polymer film from the measurement obtained by the profile meter. Extensive surface profile data were collected and analyzed to determine the characteristics of the surface of the substrate and of the coating on the substrate. The tracks made by the stylus in the film were then observed in a scanning electron microscope, from which the depth of the stylus tracks were measured. The effects of the film thickness, stylus traversing speed, and substrate roughness on the stylus penetration depth, the variation in the depth, and the measured film roughness are assessed and discussed. It was found that using the fastest stylus traversing speed minimizes the variation of the stylus penetration depth and thus results in the most accurate measurement of the film surface. To predict this stylus indentation depth, a plane strain plastic deformation model is developed using slip-line field theory. It is found that the slip-line model gives good estimates of the stylus indentation depth when the film thickness is large.