Computer modelling and simulation has its own limits as a testing tool. Unanticipated failures while products are in service have far worse cost and time implications. Test verification is a vital part of any engineering design, and it is often mandatory for some sectors, products and applications. Testing in a controlled environment to prove functionality is not only cost-effective, but often a real eye opener.
With computer modelling and simulation, industries are able to demonstrate how a new or an improved product performs when subjected to the conditions in which it must operate. So is mechanical testing becoming obsolete?
In a world in which industry is going to great lengths to save costs, in desperate bid to remain competitive, computer modelling and simulation is a very attractive proposition as it confirms what the outcome of the test will be. On the face of it, companies are able to cut costs by reducing the amount of time and budgets spent on ‘conventional’ testing.
Nonetheless, in reality, the haste to embrace novel way of testing and jettisoning the time-honoured practice of mechanical testing can backfire. This is what a, James Crowley, Director of engineering consultancy Rockatek, and member of the UK based Institution of Mechanical Engineering (IME) observes when discussing The ongoing importance of mechanical testing in the age of simulation. “Unanticipated failures while products are in service have far worse cost and time implications.
Test verification is a vital part of any engineering design, and it is often mandatory for some sectors, products and applications,” he says, adding that testing in a controlled environment to prove functionality is not only cost-effective, but often a real eye opener to the client.
In fact, there are a number of key benefits of physical testing. These include but are not isolated to: characterisation of material properties, confirmation that products work, validation of computer simulations, collection of empirical data to refine and improve simulations, proof of product improvement, and clear, visible evidence to clients of product integrity.
Crowley sums up why mechanical testing will remain as relevant as ever: “You simply cannot beat the impact of seeing the product working in a real load condition, rather than just a 3D model or an assembly on screen.”
A case study
Just as it is globally, mechanical testing is a routine practice in many projects in Africa and neighbouring countries. Mechanical testing was used in testing composite radio telescope dishes developed in South Africa for the KAT-7, MeerKAT and the International Square Kilometre Array radio astronomy projects.
Testing was done by Mechanical Testing Laboratory of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). According to the team that worked on the project, the aim of the tests was to ensure that the composite dishes developed for these radio astronomy projects would be able to last for at least 20 years.
According to the Laboratories for Materials Advanced Testing Services, mechanical testing or engineering test is performed to determine various mechanical properties of materials such as strength, hardness, ductility, toughness, brittleness, etc. There are several types of test to determine various mechanical and physical properties of material. The precision results of these tests is utilised to determine suitability of materials for the field application. A mechanical laboratory should be ISO 17025 accredited for several test methods. All tests are done in accordance with this standard.