Testing Machines typically used for the mechanical testing of materials usually contain the following elements

  • for gripping the specimen
  • for deforming it
  • for measuring the load required in performing the deformation

Some machines (ductility testers) omit the measurement of load and substitute a measurement of deformation, whereas other machines include the measurement of both load and deformation through apparatus either integral with the testing machine (stress-strain recorders) or auxiliary to it (strain gauges). In most general-purpose testing machines, the deformation is controlled as the independent variable and the resulting load measured, and in many special-purpose machines, particularly those for light loads, the load is controlled, and the resulting deformation is measured. Special features may include those for constant rate of loading (pacing disks), for constant rate of straining, for constant load maintenance, and for cyclical load variation (fatigue).

In modern testing systems, the load and deformation measurements are made with load-and-deformation-sensitive transducers which generate electrical outputs. These outputs are converted to load and deformation readings by means of appropriate electronic circuitry. The readings are commonly displayed automatically on a recorder chart or digital meter, or they are read into a computer. The transducer outputs are typically used also as feedback signals to control the test mode (constant loading, constant extension, or constant strain rate). The load transducer is usually a load cell attached to the test machine frame, with electrical output to a bridge circuit and amplifier. The load cell operation depends on change of electrical resistivity with deformation (and load) in the transducer element. The deformation transducer is generally an extensometer clipped on to the test specimen gauge length and operates on the same principle as the load cell transducer: the change in electrical resistance in the specimen gauge length is sensed as the specimen deforms.

Optical extensometers are also available which do not make physical contact with the specimen. Verification and classification of extensometers is controlled by ASTM Standards. The application of load and deformation to the specimen is usually by means of a screw-driven mechanism, but it may also be applied by means of hydraulic and servo-hydraulic systems. In each case, the load application system responds to control inputs from the load and deformation transducers. Important features in test machine design are the methods used for reducing friction, wear, and backlash. In older testing machines, test loads were determined from the machine itself (e.g., a pressure reading from the machine hydraulic pressure) so that machine friction made an important contribution to inaccuracy. The use of machine-independent transducers in modern testing has eliminated much of this source of error.

Grips should not only hold the test specimen against slippage but should also apply the load in the desired manner. Centering of the load is of great importance in compression testing and should not be neglected in tension testing if the material is brittle. Figure below shows the theoretical errors due to off-center loading; the results are directly applicable to compression tests using swivel loading blocks. Swivel (ball-and-socket) holders or compression blocks should be used with all except the most ductile materials, and in compression testing of brittle materials (concrete, stone, brick), any rough faces should be smoothly capped with plaster of paris and one-third portland cement. Serrated grips may be used to hold ductile materials or the shanks of other holders in tension; a taper of 1 in 6 on the wedge faces gives a self-tightening action without excessive jamming. Ropes are ordinarily held by wet eye splices, but braided ropes or small cords may be given several turns over a fixed pin and then clamped. Wire ropes should be zinced into forged sockets (solder and lead have insufficient strength). Grip selection for tensile testing is described in ASTM standards.


Accuracy and Calibration

ASTM standards require that commercial machines have errors of less than 1 percent within the "loading range" when checked against acceptable standards of comparison at at least five suitably spaced loads. The "loading range" may be any range through which the preceding requirements for accuracy are satisfied, except that it should not extend below 100 times the least load to which the machine will respond, or which can be read on the indicator. The use of calibration plots or tables to correct the results of an otherwise inaccurate machine is not permitted under any circumstances. Machines with errors less than 0.1 percent are commercially available (Tate-Emery and others), and somewhat greater accuracy is possible in the most refined research apparatus.

Dead loads may be used to check machines of low capacity; accurately calibrated proving levers may be used to extend the range of available weights. Various elastic devices (such as the Morehouse proving ring) made of specially treated steel, with sensitive distortion-measuring devices, and calibrated by dead weights at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are among the most satisfactory means of checking the higher loads.

In wrought materials, and particularly in those which have been cold-worked, different properties may be expected in different directions with respect to the direction of the applied work, and the test specimen should be cut out from the parent material in such a way as to give the strength in the desired direction. With the exception of fatigue specimens and specimens of extremely brittle materials, surface finish is of little practical importance, although extreme roughness tends to decrease the ultimate elongation.


Davis et al., Testing and Inspection of Engineering Materials.