Choose the Right Extensometer for Every Materials Testing Application

September 29, 2009
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The requirements for an extensometer are determined primarily by the characteristics of the material to be tested. Having said this, the right choice of extensometer cannot be limited to the basic material characteristics such as specimen dimensions, stiffness, strength and plasticity alone. It also is necessary to decide whether an extensometer can be connected directly to the specimen without influencing the load measurement or mechanically damaging the specimen itself.



In materials and component testing the range of applications where extensometers are used is extremely diverse. As a result, the technical requirements for these devices are multifaceted, and there is no single device that satisfies all needs.

The requirements for an extensometer are determined primarily by the characteristics of the material to be tested. This includes its shape and dimensions, test requirements and the formal standards that must be met. These define the gage length, accuracy, test sequence and environmental conditions.

Having said this, the right choice of extensometer cannot be limited to the basic material characteristics such as specimen dimensions, stiffness, strength and plasticity alone. It also is necessary to decide whether an extensometer can be connected directly to the specimen without influencing the load measurement or mechanically damaging the specimen itself.

This noncontact extensometer operates without specimen marks. Source: Zwick Roell

Very thin specimens such as foils can be sensitive to clamping forces, while very small wire specimens do not provide enough visible area for reliable noncontact measurements.

A high stiffness in the initial extension range, followed by high plasticity traditionally requires more than one extensometer. The first measures small strains-typically up to 5 millimeters-very accurately in the elastic range, and the second measures very high extensions-typically greater than 500 millimeters.

Specimens with very smooth surfaces, or made of transparent materials, are not suitable for noncontact measurements without first fixing measuring marks on the surface of the specimen.

One important consideration is the behavior when the specimen fails. Metals and hard plastics will slip through the knife edges of a contact extensometer without damaging them, and rotatable knife edges should be used to further reduce the risk of damage even if the surface of the specimen is particularly rough.

High extension or flexible specimens can damage or destroy the knife edges and even the extensometer itself due to whiplash, splintering or delamination of specimens. For these applications noncontact measurement is a must.

This schematic diagram shows the operating principles of various extensometers. Source: Zwick Roell

Criteria for Accurate Measurements

With contact-type measuring extensometers, the measurement travel is normally an engineered and fixed value that depends on the range of the measurement transducer and, with fulcrum-hinged sensor arms, the leverage ratio. The initial gage length is set manually with fixed steps or automatically over a defined range.

Noncontact extensometers that use a video camera must have the field of view larger than the required range plus the initial gage length. Because the specimen portions, which are outside the gage length, and the machine components themselves deform in the direction of loading, the position of the measuring marks on the specimen changes during the test.

For extension or gage lengths that are expected to be outside of the field of view, the objective lens must be changed or the distance between the specimen and the video camera must be increased. All these actions decrease the measuring accuracy, and in addition, every changed measurement configuration must be adjusted and calibrated.

Accuracy is a commonly used, qualitative term. To qualify the integrity of a measured signal, standards use quantitative terms such as resolution, deviation or uncertainty, and definitive values are given for these. Requirements for the accuracy of extension measurements are normally given in application-specific test requirements and international standards. Many test standards-for example, tensile test on metals and plastics-refer to standards for calibration of extension measurement systems and the required accuracy classes contained therein.

Devices that are easy to set up and sequences that can be automated reduce personnel time and effort, and at the same time, improve the quality of the test results because subjective influences are minimized. Higher initial acquisition costs can be quickly amortized, particularly when the extensometer can be used for a wide range of applications.

When using a video extensometer, the time and costs for marking the specimen also must be considered, as well as any potential human error introduced in attaching or aligning the marks.

Consider the selection process for extensometers carefully. Source: Zwick Roell

Contact-Type Measurement Extensometers

Clip-on extensometers are, as the name implies, mounted directly onto the specimen. The mechanical parts which transfer extension, via knife edges, from the specimen to the internal transducer are short and stiff. There is practically no relative movement between the specimen and the extensometer, and for this reason, the measurement accuracy is exceptionally high.

The range of a clip-on extensometer is limited to a few millimeters and it applies a load directly to the specimen. Some extensometers are available with counter-balance weight, and double-sided measuring systems are used to compensate for superimposed bending stresses. The application and removal is normally manual, however, to minimize setting errors certain products are equipped with motorized application and removal systems.

Feeler arm extensometers offer the advantage of automatic operation and a large measurement range with high measurement accuracy and are suitable for many different applications. Precision designs with a smooth and balanced mechanical operation apply minimum loading to the specimen-as little as the measurement marks used for noncontact extensometers. Because the feeler arms are in contact with both sides of the specimen, superimposed bending strains are largely compensated.

Clip-on and feeler arm extensometers are in direct mechanical contact with the specimen via knife edges that are perpendicular to the gage length. The extremely small contact force from the knife edges can cause a microscopic indentation in the specimen surface which gives a light form-fit and thereby a precisely positioned contact point. This is an important factor for the large measurement accuracy and small scatter bandwidth of the measured values.

Because of the direct contact with the specimen, feeler arm extensometers can be damaged or even destroyed by whiplash at the failure point of high-elasticity or high-extension specimens.

This is a combination of fully automatic feeler arm extensometers with dual averaging axial and transverse strain extensometer. Source: Zwick Roell

Noncontact Extensometers

The main advantage of noncontact video and laser scanning extensometers is that they can be used up to the breaking point without damage even when testing specimens exhibit whiplash. They require measurement marks to be attached to the specimen that are optically distinct from the surrounding area of the specimen.

The measurement marks are clipped, tacked or glued onto the specimen, or the specimen is marked with a colored pen. In every case, this introduces additional sources of error as the marks can become indistinct, move or fall off the specimen surface as it deforms during loading. The application of the measurement marks is an additional process by the operator and can introduce higher costs as well as inaccuracies to the test results.

The position of the measurement marks on the specimen is evaluated by software algorithms that determine a certain area around an optical center point. This becomes the gage length, and as the specimen is loaded, the movement of the marks is converted to extension values.

The required measuring points for the calculation of elastic modulus for metal and plastic are shown in comparison to a human hair, highlighting the accuracy requirements for extensometers. Source: Zwick Roell

Special lighting for surface or background illumination of the specimen optimizes the contrast to the measurement mark. During the deformation of the specimen, the lighting changes on the measurement marks, as well as specimen, and surrounding influences, such as reflections, can influence the optical center point. This is often the cause of scatter in the test results.

Contact-type extensometers measure extension accurately and are cost-effective. However, clip-on extensometers require more manual intervention and without care can introduce scatter in the test results. Feeler arms extensometers offer high accuracy, repeatability and ease of use due to fully automatic operation, which includes the setting of variable gage lengths.

Noncontact extensometers are required when the specimen is sensitive to notching knife edges or when the extensometer might be damaged at specimen break. They also are still relatively expensive and time consuming to set up and calibrate, particularly when testing different specimen types.

In short, there is no such device as a universal extensometer. The large range of applications demands various devices with different functions and characteristics, and the correct extensometer must be selected for each application. Q

Quality Online

For more information on materials testing, visit www.qualitymag.com to read the following:

“Automation Speeds Materials Testing”
“Testing a Soft-Body Robot”
“Materials Testing Made Easy”

Tech Tips

  • The right choice of extensometer cannot be limited to the basic material characteristics such as specimen dimensions, stiffness, strength and plasticity alone.

  • It is necessary to decide whether an extensometer can be connected directly to the specimen without influencing the load measurement or mechanically damaging the specimen itself.

  • The main advantage of noncontact video and laser scanning extensometers is that they can be used up to the breaking point without damage even when testing specimens exhibit whiplash.
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