What is a Materials Test?

Mary McMahon

A materials test is a testing process in which the properties of a material are assessed. Far from being one test, materials tests are usually very lengthy procedures which involve a detailed assessment, with the goal of learning as much as possible about the material. Materials testing is required by law in many regions of the world for new products which are going to be introduced to the market, and such testing is also routinely performed on older products.

Scientist with beakers
Scientist with beakers

Testing of materials usually starts with assessing the basic properties of the material. The material is also put under strain for a failure analysis, and to determine whether or not it is flammable, which kinds of conditions can cause it to become dangerous, how much weight it can bear, and whether or not it can withstand caustic chemicals. Materials testing includes an analysis of physical and chemical properties, looking at everything from what a material is made from to how well it conducts electricity.

Since many nations have extensive safety standards which govern products sold to consumers, a materials test also includes testing which is designed to determine whether or not a product meets those standards. For example, a child's toy would be tested to see if it can be a choking hazard, or to determine whether or not the plastic it is made from offgases, releasing harmful chemicals which could hurt a child. Materials tests also include assessments of paints, coatings, and all components to check for things which could be dangerous.

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This type of testing is performed in a highly controlled lab which rigorously upholds standards. Labs must usually follow standards set by governing bodies such as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), ensuring that tests in any lab will be equally rigorous and equally repeatable. Labs usually also specialize in a particular area of materials test procedures, such as electrical testing, plastics testing, and so forth.

In addition to being performed for safety, a materials test can also be conducted for quality assurance purposes. Products which have been cleared for sale can be retested to confirm that they are still of the same quality and to check for signs of adulteration or alterations which might render them unsafe. Quality assurance can also include activities such as calibration during a materials test to confirm that instruments are measuring things properly, and tests to confirm that the manufacturing process is truly standardized, ensuring that every product is the same.

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