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A tensile test, also known as tension test, is probably the most fundamental type of mechanical test you can perform on material. Tensile tests are simple, relatively inexpensive, and fully standardized. By pulling on something, you will very quickly determine how the material will react to forces being applied in tension. As the material is being pulled, you will find its strength along with how much it will elongate.

You can learn a lot about a substance from tensile testing. As you continue to pull on the material until it breaks, you will obtain a good, complete tensile profile. A curve will result showing how it reacted to the forces being applied. The point of failure is of much interest and is typically called its "Ultimate Strength" or UTS on the chart.

For most tensile testing of materials, you will notice that in the initial portion of the test, the relationship between the applied force, or load, and the elongation the specimen exhibits is linear. In this linear region, the line obeys the relationship defined as "Hooke's Law" where the ratio of stress to strain is a constant, or . E is the slope of the line in this region where stress (σ) is proportional to strain (ε) and is called the "Modulus of Elasticity" or "Young's Modulus".

Select image to enlarge The modulus of elasticity is a measure of the stiffness of the material, but it only applies in the linear region of the curve. If a specimen is loaded within this linear region, the material will return to its exact same condition if the load is removed. At the point that the curve is no longer linear and deviates from the straight-line relationship, Hooke's Law no longer applies and some permanent deformation occurs in the specimen. This point is called the "elastic, or proportional, limit". From this point on in the tensile test, the material reacts plastically to any further increase in load or stress. It will not return to its original, unstressed condition if the load were removed.

A value called "yield strength" of a material is defined as the stress applied to the material at which plastic deformation starts to occur while the material is loaded.

For some materials (e.g., metals and plastics), the departure from the linear elastic region cannot be easily identified. Therefore, an offset method to determine the yield strength of the material tested is allowed. These methods are discussed in ASTM E8 (metals) and D638 (plastics). An offset is specified as a % of strain (for metals, usually 0.2% from E8 and sometimes for plastics a value of 2% is used). The stress (R) that is determined from the intersection point "r" when the line of the linear elastic region (with slope equal to Modulus of Elasticity) is drawn from the offset "m" becomes the Yield Strength by the offset method.

The tensile curves of some materials do not have a very well-defined linear region. In these cases, ASTM Standard E111 provides for alternative methods for determining the modulus of a material, as well as Young's Modulus. These alternate moduli are thesecant modulus and tangent modulus.

You will also be able to find the amount of stretch or elongation the specimen undergoes during tensile testing This can be expressed as an absolute measurement in the change in length or as a relative measurement called "strain". Strain itself can be expressed in two different ways, as "engineering strain" and "true strain". Engineering strain is probably the easiest and the most common expression of strain used. It is the ratio of the change in length to the original length, . Whereas, the true strain is similar but based on the instantaneous length of the specimen as the test progresses, , where L_{i} is the instantaneous length and L_{0} the initial length.

One of the properties you can determine about a material is its ultimate tensile strength (UTS). This is the maximum load the specimen sustains during the test. The UTS may or may not equate to the strength at break. This all depends on what type of material you are testing. . .brittle, ductile, or a substance that even exhibits both properties. And sometimes a material may be ductile when tested in a lab, but, when placed in service and exposed to extreme cold temperatures, it may transition to brittle behavior.

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