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Designing Plastic Parts for Assembly

Paul A. Tres
ISBN 3-446-40321-3


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Strength of Material for Plastics


Tensile Strength

Tensile strength is a materials ability to withstand an axial load. In an ASTM test of tensile strength, a specimen bar (Figure 3-1) is placed in a tensile testing machine. Both ends of the specimen are clamped into the machines jaws, which pull both ends of the bar. Stress is automatically plotted against the strain. The axial load is applied to the specimen when the machine pulls the ends of the specimen bar in opposite directions at a slow and constant rate of speed. Two different speeds are used: 0.2 in. per minute (5 mm/min) to approximate the materials behavior in a hand assembly operation; and 2.0 in. per minute (50 mm/min) to simulate semiautomatic or automatic assembly procedures. The bar is marked with gauge marks on either side of the mid point of the narrow, middle portion of the bar. As the pulling progresses, the specimen bar elongates at a uniform rate that is proportionate to the rate at which the load or pulling force increases. The load, divided by the cross-sectional area of the specimen within the gage marks, represents the unit stress resistance of the plastic material to the pulling or tensile force.

Figure 3-1 Test specimen bar

3.2 Compressive Stress


The stress (-sigma) is expressed in pounds per square inch (psi) or in Mega Pascals (MPa). 1 MPa equals 1 Newton per square millimeter (N/mm2). To convert psi into MPa, multiply by 0.0069169. To convert MPa into psi, multiply by 144.573.


Stress psi (MPa)

Yield point

Ultimate stress

Elastic limit Proportional limit

Figure 3-2 Typical stress/strain diagram for plastic materials

Strain %


Proportional Limit

The proportional relationship of force to elongation, or of stress to strain, continues until the elongation no longer complies with the Hookes law of proportionality. The greatest stress that a plastic material can sustain without any deviation from the law of proportionality is called proportional stress limit (Figure 3-2).


Elastic Stress Limit

Beyond the proportional stress limit the plastic material exhibits an increase in elongation at a faster rate. Elastic stress limit is the greatest stress a material can withstand without sustaining any permanent strain after the load is released (Figure 3-2).


Yield Stress

Beyond the elastic stress limit, further movement of the test machine jaws in opposite directions causes a permanent elongation or deformation of the specimen. There is a point beyond which the plastic material stretches briefly without a noticeable increase in load. This point is known as the yield point. Most unreinforced materials have a distinct yield point. Reinforced plastic materials exhibit a yield region.


Strength of Material for Plastics

It is important to note that the results of this test will vary between individual specimens of the same material. If ten specimens made out of a reinforced plastic material were given this test, it is unlikely that two specimens would have the same yield point. This variance is induced by the bond between the reinforcement and the matrix material.


Ultimate Stress

Ultimate stress is the maximum stress a material takes before failure. Beyond the plastic materials elastic limit, continued pulling causes the specimen to neck down across its width. This is accompanied by a further acceleration of the axial elongation (deformation), which is now largely confined within the short necked-down section. The pulling force eventually reaches a maximum value and then falls rapidly, with little additional elongation of the specimen before failure occurs. In failing, the specimen test bar breaks in two within the necking-down portion. The maximum pulling load, expressed as stress in psi or in N/mm2 of the original cross-sectional area, is the plastic materials ultimate tensile strength (ULTIMATE). The two halves of the specimen are then placed back together, and the distance between the two marks is measured. The increase in length gives the elongation, expressed in percentage. The cross-section at the point of failure is measured to obtain the reduction in area, which is also expressed as percentage. Both the elongation percentage and the reduction in area percentage suggest the material ductility. In structural plastic part design it is essential to ensure that the stresses that would result from loading will be within the elastic range. If the elastic limit is exceeded, permanent deformation takes place due to plastic flow or slippage along molecular slip planes. This will result in permanent plastic deformations.


Compressive Stress

Compressive stress is the compressive force divided by cross-sectional area, measured in psi or MPa. It is general practice in plastic part design to assume that the compressive strength of a plastic material is equal to its tensile strength. This can also apply to some structural design calculations, where Youngs modulus (modulus of elasticity) in tension is used, even though the loading is compressive. The ultimate compressive strength of thermoplastic materials is often greater than the ultimate tensile strength. In other words, most plastics can withstand more compressive surface pressure than tensile load. The compressive test is similar to that of tensile properties. A test specimen is compressed to rupture between two parallel platens. The test specimen has a cylindrical shape, measuring 1 in. (25.4 mm) in length and 0.5 in. (12.7 mm) in diameter. The load is applied to the specimen from two directions in axial opposition. The ultimate compressive strength is measured when the specimen fails by crushing.

3.2 Compressive Stress


A stress/strain diagram is developed during the test, and values are obtained for the four distinct regions: the proportional region, the elastic region, the yield region, and the ultimate (or breakage) region. The structural analysis of thermoplastic parts is more complex when the material is in compression. Failure develops under the influence of a bending moment that increases as the deflection increases. A plastic parts geometric shape is a significant factor in its capacity to withstand compressive loads.



Figure 3-3 Compressive test specimen

The stress/strain curve in compression is similar to the tensile stress/strain diagram, except the values of stresses in the compression test are greater for the corresponding elongation levels. This is because it takes much more compressive stress than tensile stress to deform a plastic.


Shear Stress

Shear stress is the shear load divided by the area resisting shear. Tangential to the area, shear stress is measured in psi or MPa. There is no recognized standard method of testing for shear strength (-tau) of a thermoplastic or thermoset material. Pure shear loads are seldom encountered in structural part design. Usually, shear stresses develop as a by-product of principal stresses, or where transverse forces are present.


Strength of Material for Plastics

The ultimate shear strength is commonly observed by actually shearing a plastic plaque in a punch-and-die setup. A ram applies varying pressures to the specimen. The rams speed is kept constant so only the pressures vary. The minimum axial load that produces a punch-through is recorded. This is used to calculate the ultimate shear stress. Exact ultimate shear stress is difficult to assess, but it can be successfully approximated as 0.75 of the ultimate tensile stress of the material.


Figure 3-4 Shear stress sample specimen example: (a) before; (b) after


Torsion Stress

Torsional loading is the application of a force that tends to cause the member to twist about its axis (Figure 3-5). Torsion is referred to in terms of torsional moment or torque, which is the product of the externally applied load and the moment arm. The moment arm represents the distance from the centerline of rotation to the line of force and perpendicular to it. The principal deflection caused by torsion is measured by the angle of twist or by the vertical movement of one side.

Figure 3-5 Torsion stress

3.4 Torsion Stress


When a shaft is subjected to a torsional moment or torque, the resulting shear stress is:

= Mt is the torsional moment and it is:

Mt Mt r = J I


Mt = F R


The following notation has been used: J polar moment of inertia I moment of inertia R moment arm r radius of gyration (distance from the center of section to the outer fiber) F load applied



Elongation is the deformation of a thermoplastic or thermoset material when a load is applied at the ends of the specimen test bar in opposite axial direction. The recorded deformation, depending upon the nature of the applied load (axial, shear or torsional), can be measured in variation of length or in variation of angle. Strain is a ratio of the increase in elongation by initial dimension of a material. Again, strain is dimensionless. Depending on the nature of the applied load, strains can be tensile, compressive, or shear.
= L (%) L



Tensile Strain

A test specimen bar similar to that described in Section 3.1 is used to determine the tensile strain. The ultimate tensile strain is determined when the test specimen, being pulled apart by its ends, elongates. Just before the specimen breaks, the ultimate tensile strain is recorded. The elongation of the specimen represents the strain (-epsilon) induced in the material, and is expressed in inches per inch of length (in/in) or in millimeters per millimeter (mm/mm). This is an adimensional measure. Percent notations such as = 3% can also be used. Figure 3-2 shows stress and strain plotted in a simplified graph.


Strength of Material for Plastics

Figure 3-6 Tensile specimen loaded showing dimensional change in length. The difference between the original length (L) and the elongated length is L

Figure 3-7 Compressive specimen showing dimensional change in length. L is the original length; P is the compressive force. L is the dimensional change in length

3.5 Elongations



Compressive Strain

The compressive strain test employs a set-up similar to the one described in Section 3.2. The ultimate compressive strain is measured at the instant just before the test specimen fails by crushing.


Shear Strain

Shear strain is a measure of the angle of deformation gamma. As is the case with shear stress, there is also no recognized standard test for shear strain.


Figure 3-8 Shear strain: (a) before; (b) after


True Stress and Strain vs. Engineering Stress and Strain

Engineering strain is the ratio of the total deformation over initial length. Engineering stress is the ratio of the force applied at the end of the test specimen by initial constant area. True stress is the ratio of the instantaneous force over instantaneous area. Formula 3.7 shows that the true stress is a function of engineering stress multiplied by a factor based on engineering strain.

TRUE = (1+ )


True strain is the ratio of instantaneous deformation over instantaneous length. Formula 3.8 shows that the true strain is a logarithmic function of engineering strain.
TRUE = ln(1+ )



Strength of Material for Plastics

By using the ultimate strain and stress values, we can easily determine the true ultimate stress as:


Similarly, by replacing engineering strain for a given point in Equation 3.8 with engineering ultimate strain, we can easily find the value of the true ultimate strain as:


Both true stress and true strain are required input as material data in a variety of finite element analyses, where non-linear material analysis is needed.

Initial area

Reduced area

Figure 3-9 True stress necking-down effect


Poissons Ratio

Provided the material deformation is within the elastic range, the ratio of lateral to longitudinal strains is constant and the coefficient is called Poissons ratio.


In other words, stretching produces an elastic contraction in the two lateral directions. If an elastic strain produces no change in volume, the two lateral strains will be equal to half the tensile strain times 1.

3.7 Poissons Ratio

b b


Figure 3-10 Dimensional change in only two of three directions

b' b'

Under a tensile load, a test specimen increases (decreases for a compressive test) in length by the amount L and decreases in width (increases for a compressive test) by the amount b. The related strains are:


Poissons ratio varies between 0, where no lateral contraction is present, to 0.5 for which the contraction in width equals the elongation. In practice there are no materials with Poissons ratio 0 or 0.5.
Table 3-1 Typical Poissons ratio values for different materials Material Type ABS Aluminum Brass Cast iron Copper High density polyethylene Poissons Ratio at 0.2 in./min (5 mm/min) Strain Rate 0.4155 0.34 0.37 0.25 0.35 0.35


Strength of Material for Plastics

Table 3-1 (Continued) Material Type Lead Polyamide Polycarbonate 13% glass reinforced polyamide Polypropylene Polysulfone Steel Poissons Ratio at 0.2 in./min (5 mm/min) Strain Rate 0.45 0.38 0.38 0.347 0.431 0.37 0.29

The lateral variation in dimensions during the pull-down test is:

b = b b


Therefore, the ratio of lateral dimensional change by the longitudinal dimensional change is:
b = b L L Or, by rewriting, the Poissons ratio is:




Modulus of Elasticity
Youngs Modulus

The Youngs modulus or elastic modulus is typically defined as the slope of the stress/strain curve at the origin. The ratio between stress and strain is constant, obeying Hookes Law, within the elasticity range of any material. This ratio is called Youngs modulus and is measured in MPa or psi.



Hookes Law is generally applicable for most metals, thermoplastics and thermosets, within the limit of proportionality.