Background: Crosslinked UHMWPE as a bearing surface in total joint arthroplasty has higher wear resistance than conventional UHMWPE but lower strength and toughness. To produce crosslinked UHMWPE with improved mechanical properties, the material can be treated before crosslinking by tension to induce molecular alignment (texture). Questions/purposes: We asked how (1) the microstructure of UHMWPE evolves when subjected to tension and (2) whether the new microstructure (texture) increases strength and toughness. Methods: We analyzed microstructure evolution of UHMWPE by small- and wide-angle xray scattering and scanning electron microscopy. We then developed a method to characterize the local strength and toughness of undeformed and textured UHMWPEs by means of nanoscratch tests along and perpendicular to the specimen axis. In three samples we determined the scratch characteristics in terms of deformation mode, coefficient of friction (μ), and viscoelastic recovery (r). Results: Before the tensile process, the scratch behavior of UHMWPE was characterized by a μ ranging from 0.64 to 0.68, no cracking, and r ranging from 0.58 to 0.60. Microfibrillar morphologic features resulted from the tensile process. The new microstructure had an increased strength (r = 0.78) and decreased toughness (cracking + μ = 0.77) perpendicular to the fibril axis and decreased strength (r = 0.53) and increased toughness (no cracking + μ = 0.55) parallel to the fibril axis. Conclusions: Textured UHMWPE behaves like a fiber composite with high strength and toughness in well-defined directions. However, the effect of crosslinking on these specific properties is unknown and therefore it is important to verify that the properties are retained. If wear resistance of crosslinked-textured UHMWPE is at least as high as that of crosslinked UHMWPE, novel medical devices made of crosslinked-textured UHMWPE could be developed and clinically tested.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine