Modern Test Equipment Updates Engineering Technology Labs
By Brian McMillan

Thanks to some new equipment, Northern Michigan University's students will have an easier time testing the properties of duct tape this school year.

In time for the new school year, the Engineering Technology Department received funding through the NMU's capital equipment replacement fund to purchase new equipment that will help prepare students for the workplace.

Tensile Test Story
Assistant professor Michael Martin teaches
students about the properties of various
metals and alloys using the tensile test machine.

The machine, a $100,000 Instron Tensile Test Machine, replaces the older version that had been used in the department for about two decades. It tests metals, wood, plastic, and other materials—including duct tape—for their responses to compression and stretching. The machine has a frame around it about the size of a metal detector at the airport. Two clamps extend from the top and bottom, meeting in the middle to secure the material to be tested.

Michael Martin, assistant professor in the department, teaches students about the properties of various metals and alloys. His students might heat metals to certain temperatures and then use the tensile tester to verify the predicted changes to the metal. Steel supply companies use tensile test machines to ensure their product is up to the right specifications.

Once the metal is clamped into place, the new machine starts to pay dividends. Whereas the old machine used outdated software, along with other buttons and switches, the new one is fully automated and Windows-based.

“It’s modern, up-to-date, real-world equipment that they’ll see in their engineering career,” he said, adding that “very few companies” still use the older model. Potential jobs include working at a steel mill or a foundry.

Robert Marlor, associate professor, said an added benefit is that the older tensile test machine can still be used for many of the lab activities, and that means that now twice as many students will gain hands-on experience with the principles being taught.

While Martin teaches the advanced materials class focusing on metals, Marlor teaches the precursor class that gives students an overview of most varieties of materials, including metals, plastics, composites, wood and ceramics. Marlor’s students use the tensile test machine to analyze which types of wood can withstand how much load and how much the wood is deformed in response to force.

Tensile Test Story
The machine, a Instron Tensile Test
Machine, replaces the older version
that had been used in the
department for about two decades.

In addition, Marlor said, “once or twice each semester, we let students come up with something they’d like to test. We’ve tested carabiners for rock climbers, arrows for a bow and arrow, golf balls, titanium orthopedic implants.”

But while the students enjoy testing how much weight duct tape can handle, Marlor said the most surprising lessons are about wood.

“Pound for pound, if you look at equivalent weight for wood and steel, the wood is almost as strong in some cases,” Marlor said. After all, he said, “they’ve been making things with wood for a long time and it seems to work.”

While the wood hasn’t changed, the faculty and students will welcome the change in the equipment used to test it.