Tensile Properties

Tensile properties indicate how the material will react to forces being applied in tension. A tensile test is a fundamental mechanical test where a carefully prepared specimen is loaded in a very controlled manner while measuring the applied load and the elongation of the specimen over some distance. Tensile tests are used to determine the modulus of elasticity, elastic limit, elongation, proportional limit, reduction in area, tensile strength, yield point, yield strength and other tensile properties.

The main product of a tensile test is a load versus elongation curve which is then converted into a stress versus strain curve. Since both the engineering stress and the engineering strain are obtained by dividing the load and elongation by constant values (specimen geometry information), the load-elongation curve will have the same shape as the engineering stress-strain curve. The stress-strain curve relates the applied stress to the resulting strain and each material has its own unique stress-strain curve. A typical engineering stress-strain curve is shown below. If the true stress, based on the actual cross-sectional area of the specimen, is used, it is found that the stress-strain curve increases continuously up to fracture.

 The stress strain curves shows how a material or part will behave under stress with stress on the y-axis and strain on the x-axis. First, there is a linear-Elastic regime where the stress-strain curve is a straight line with a slope that depends on the material. During this portion the deformation is elastic. From there the curves slope decreases to zero and goes negative until the part breaks.

Linear-Elastic Region and Elastic Constants
As can be seen in the figure, the stress and strain initially increase with a linear relationship. This is the linear-elastic portion of the curve and it indicates that no plastic deformation has occurred.  In this region of the curve, when the stress is reduced, the material will return to its original shape.  In this linear region, the line obeys the relationship defined as Hooke's Law where the ratio of stress to strain is a constant. 

The slope of the line in this region where stress is proportional to strain and is called the modulus of elasticity or Young's modulus.  The modulus of elasticity (E) defines the properties of a material as it undergoes stress, deforms, and then returns to its original shape after the stress is removed.  It is a measure of the stiffness of a given material.  To compute the modulus of elastic , simply divide the stress by the strain in the material. Since strain is unitless, the modulus will have the same units as the stress, such as kpi or MPa.  The modulus of elasticity applies specifically to the situation of a component being stretched with a tensile force. This modulus is of interest when it is necessary to compute how much a rod or wire stretches under a tensile load.

There are several different kinds of moduli depending on the way the material is being stretched, bent, or otherwise distorted.  When a component is subjected to pure shear, for instance, a cylindrical bar under torsion, the shear modulus describes the linear-elastic stress-strain relationship.

Axial strain is always accompanied by lateral strains of opposite sign in the two directions mutually perpendicular to the axial strain.  Strains that result from an increase in length are designated as positive (+) and those that result in a decrease in length are designated as negative (-).  Poisson's ratio is defined as the negative of the ratio of the lateral strain to the axial strain for a uniaxial stress state.

ν = ϵ l a t e r a l ϵ a x i a l \nu=-\frac{\epsilon_{lateral}}{\epsilon_{axial}}

Poisson's ratio is sometimes also defined as the ratio of the absolute values of lateral and axial strain.  This ratio, like strain, is unitless since both strains are unitless.  For stresses within the elastic range, this ratio is approximately constant.  For a perfectly isotropic elastic material, Poisson's Ratio is 0.25, but for most materials the value lies in the range of 0.28 to 0.33.  Generally for steels, Poisson’s ratio will have a value of approximately 0.3.  This means that if there is one inch per inch of deformation in the direction that stress is applied, there will be 0.3 inches per inch of deformation perpendicular to the direction that force is applied. 

Only two of the elastic constants are independent so if two constants are known, the third can be calculated using the following formula:

E = 2 ( 1 + ν ) G E=2(1+\nu)G .

Where: E = modulus of elasticity (Young's modulus)
  ν = Poisson's ratio
  G = modulus of rigidity (shear modulus).

A couple of additional elastic constants that may be encountered include the bulk modulus (K), and Lame's constants (μ and λ). The bulk modulus is used describe the situation where a piece of material is subjected to a pressure increase on all sides.  The relationship between the change in pressure and the resulting strain produced is the bulk modulus. Lame's constants are derived from modulus of elasticity and Poisson's ratio.

Yield Point

In ductile materials, at some point, the stress-strain curve deviates from the straight-line relationship and Law no longer applies as the strain increases faster than the stress. From this point on in the tensile test, some permanent deformation occurs in the specimen and the material is said to react plastically to any further increase in load or stress. The material will not return to its original, unstressed condition when the load is removed. In brittle materials, little or no plastic deformation occurs and the material fractures near the end of the linear-elastic portion of the curve.

With most materials there is a gradual transition from elastic to plastic behavior, and the exact point at which plastic deformation begins to occur is hard to determine. Therefore, various criteria for the initiation of yielding are used depending on the sensitivity of the strain measurements and the intended use of the data. (See Table) For most engineering design and specification applications, the yield strength is used. The yield strength is defined as the stress required to produce a small, amount of plastic deformation. The offset yield strength is the stress corresponding to the intersection of the stress-strain curve and a line parallel to the elastic part of the curve offset by a specified strain (in the US the offset is typically 0.2% for metals and 2% for plastics).

In Great Britain, the yield strength is often referred to as the proof stress.  The offset value is either 0.1% or 0.5%

To determine the yield strength using this offset, the point is found on the strain axis (x-axis) of 0.002, and then a line parallel to the stress-strain line is drawn. This line will intersect the stress-strain line slightly after it begins to curve, and that intersection is defined as the yield strength with a 0.2% offset.  A good way of looking at offset yield strength is that after a specimen has been loaded to its 0.2 percent offset yield strength and then unloaded it will be 0.2 percent longer than before the test. Even though the yield strength is meant to represent the exact point at which the material becomes permanently deformed, 0.2% elongation is considered to be a tolerable amount of sacrifice for the ease it creates in defining the yield strength.

Some materials such as gray cast iron or soft copper exhibit essentially no linear-elastic behavior. For these materials the usual practice is to define the yield strength as the stress required to produce some total amount of strain.

  • True elastic limit is a very low value and is related to the motion of a few hundred dislocations. Micro strain measurements are required to detect strain on order of 2 x 10 -6 in/in.
  • Proportional limit is the highest stress at which stress is directly proportional to strain. It is obtained by observing the deviation from the straight-line portion of the stress-strain curve.
  • Elastic limit is the greatest stress the material can withstand without any measurable permanent strain remaining on the complete release of load. It is determined using a tedious incremental loading-unloading test procedure. With the sensitivity of strain measurements usually employed in engineering studies (10 -4in/in), the elastic limit is greater than the proportional limit. With increasing sensitivity of strain measurement, the value of the elastic limit decreases until it eventually equals the true elastic limit determined from micro strain measurements.
  • Yield strength is the stress required to produce a small-specified amount of plastic deformation. The yield strength obtained by an offset method is commonly used for engineering purposes because it avoids the practical difficulties of measuring the elastic limit or proportional limit.

Ultimate Tensile Strength
The ultimate tensile strength (UTS) or, more simply, the tensile strength, is the maximum engineering stress level reached in a tension test. The strength of a material is its ability to withstand external forces without breaking. In brittle materials, the UTS will at the end of the linear-elastic portion of the stress-strain curve or close to the elastic limit. In ductile materials, the UTS will be well outside of the elastic portion into the plastic portion of the stress-strain curve.

On the stress-strain curve above, the UTS is the highest point where the line is momentarily flat. Since the UTS is based on the engineering stress, it is often not the same as the breaking strength. In ductile materials strain hardening occurs and the stress will continue to increase until fracture occurs, but the engineering stress-strain curve may show a decline in the stress level before fracture occurs. This is the result of engineering stress being based on the original cross-section area and not accounting for the necking that commonly occurs in the test specimen. The UTS may not be completely representative of the highest level of stress that a material can support, but the value is not typically used in the design of components anyway. For ductile metals the current design practice is to use the yield strength for sizing static components. However, since the UTS is easy to determine and quite reproducible, it is useful for the purposes of specifying a material and for quality control purposes. On the other hand, for brittle materials the design of a component may be based on the tensile strength of the material.

Measures of Ductility (Elongation and Reduction of Area)

The ductility of a material is a measure of the extent to which a material will deform before fracture. The amount of ductility is an important factor when considering forming operations such as rolling and extrusion. It also provides an indication of how visible overload damage to a component might become before the component fractures. Ductility is also used a quality control measure to assess the level of impurities and proper processing of a material.

 Brittle materials can handle high stresses without straining very much, but they also break with very little strain. Ductile materials easily deform, so they can take large strains, but not very high stresses.The conventional measures of ductility are the engineering strain at fracture (usually called the elongation ) and the reduction of area at fracture. Both of these properties are obtained by fitting the specimen back together after fracture and measuring the change in length and cross-sectional area. Elongation is the change in axial length divided by the original length of the specimen or portion of the specimen. It is expressed as a percentage. Because an appreciable fraction of the plastic deformation will be concentrated in the necked region of the tensile specimen, the value of elongation will depend on the gage length over which the measurement is taken. The smaller the gage length the greater the large localized strain in the necked region will factor into the calculation. Therefore, when reporting values of elongation , the gage length should be given.

One way to avoid the complication from necking is to base the elongation measurement on the uniform strain out to the point at which necking begins. This works well at times but some engineering stress-strain curve are often quite flat in the vicinity of maximum loading and it is difficult to precisely establish the strain when necking starts to occur.

Reduction of area is the change in cross-sectional area divided by the original cross-sectional area. This change is measured in the necked down region of the specimen. Like elongation, it is usually expressed as a percentage.

As previously discussed, tension is just one of the way that a material can be loaded. Other ways of loading a material include compression, bending, shear and torsion, and there are a number of standard tests that have been established to characterize how a material performs under these other loading conditions. A very cursory introduction to some of these other material properties will be provided on the next page.