Gear systems rotating on hubs have been operated to failure using Sandia's microengine as the actuation device. Conventional failure modes such as fatigue induced fracture did not occur, indicating that the devices are mechanically extremely robust. The generic route to failure observed for all rotating devices involves sticking of structures that are in sliding contact. This sticking evidently results from microscopic changes in the sliding surfaces during operation. The rate at which these changes occur is accelerated by excessive applied forces, which originate from non-optimized designs or inappropriate drive voltages. Precursors to failure are observed, enabling further understanding of the microscopic changes that occur in the sliding surfaces that ultimately led to failure.© (1997) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.