There are multiple costs associated with purchasing and operating a materials testing machine. Before you begin testing, not only do you need to consider the purchase price of the machine, but shipping, installation and site modification costs as well. Shipping costs my run between $500 to $2,500 or more depending on size and weight. If the machine is large and your facility has no clear route between the loading dock and test lab, then you may need to hire a rigger to uncrate the tester and transport the machine to the lab. Rigging costs vary greatly depending on issues like having to traverse stairs or remove a door or window. Prior to placing the machine in the lab, you must also determine if the floor is rated to support the weight of the machine and if you have the required electrical power installed in the room.
Machines may be compact or much larger like this floor-standing model
Once the machine is installed in the lab, it will need to be calibrated. Many labs have their testers calibrated either annually, biannually, quarterly, or monthly depending upon requirements. Calibration procedures within North America are governed by the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM). Common calibration specifications for a universal testing machine are:
- ASTM E4 Standard Practices for Force Verification of Testing Machines
- ASTM E83 Standard Practices for Verification and Classification of Extensometer Systems
- ASTM E1012 Standard Practice for Verification of Test Frame and Specimen Alignment Under Tensile and Compressive Axial Force Application
- ASTM E2309 Standard Practices for Verification of Displacement Measuring Systems and Devices Used in Materials Testing Machines
Several testing machine manufacturers have their own captive calibration organizations. Other manufacturers work with a network of regionally located independent service calibration businesses. The independent service providers are less expensive, sometimes half the cost, of the manufacturer based providers. If you purchase a machine from a testing company that has their own service organization, be aware that they keep the calibration passwords secret so only they can calibrate the machine. The testing machine manufacturers that employ independent calibration providers provide the calibration passwords so you can choose who calibrates your machine. In addition, not only are the independent calibrators lower in cost, they are usually more flexible on schedule.
Start-up training is included in the purchase price of most testing machines. The experience of the testing machine operators usually dictates how much training is required. You should plan on one day as a minimum. The variety and complexity of the tests and the features included in the software/controller are other factors that dictate how much training is required. We also suggest that one person be appointed as the technical liaison between the testing machine operators and machine manufacturer. In the event you experience issues with your tests, the technical liaison will be more efficient in helping the manufacturer to resolve your problems. One other consideration is the turn over of your testing machine operators and how much training the replacements replacements require. Will the technical liaison be able to provide training or will the manufacturer need to be brought in at additional cost?
Remember to take the cost of training your staff into consideration
Testing machine maintenance can be as simple as keeping the machine free of broken sample fragments and periodically lubricating moving parts. Additional maintenance may be required if, for example, you are performing tensile tests on very hard and brittle materials. Extensometer knife edges may require replacement and grip faces typically need frequent cleaning and/or replacement. When considering software upgrades, verify that the software is compatible with your computer operating system. Some upgrades may require you to add more memory to your computer. If your testing machine software/controller is old, replacement may be the only upgrade option. If you find yourself in this situation, not only should you explore upgrade options with the machine manufacturer but you might want to discuss your upgrade options with other vendors. Oftentimes, you will find an upgrade from a vendor other than the machine manufacturer better fits your needs, is easier to use, and costs less.