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The adhesive interphase formed between brass plated steel cord and sulfur crosslinked rubber is known to be a complex layer of metal oxides, sulfides, and rubber. Hostile aging of this system produces changes in the structure, morphology, thickness, and mechanical properties of this layer. In a previous publication it has been shown that the overall thickness of the sulfide layer as measured by depth profiling with Auger electron spectroscopy could be used to characterize the degradation of the adhesive bond [G. E. Hammer etal, J. Vac. Sci. Technol. A 12, 2388 (1994)]. In this work multivariate statistical analysis of the sulfur Auger electron spectra was used to produce chemical depth profiles of the individual copper and zinc sulfide layers. These chemical depth profiles give new insight into the adhesion degradation mechanism on the nanometer scale. Particularly, the percentage of copper sulfide in the layer was found to be an accurate predictor of adhesion degradation. © 2001 American Vacuum Society.