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How VicTesting could have saved the Titanic

Tall tales abound about why the “unsinkable” Titanic did the exact opposite of what it was supposed to do, taking 1500 of its 2200 passengers with it to the bottom of the ocean.

The demise of this luxury passenger liner, which hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank in under two hours during its maiden voyage in 1912, is still the subject of controversy more than a century later.

The experts can’t agree on the reasons why.

Was it that the shipbuilders, experiencing a flurry of major projects, used sub-standard steel? Some say yes.

Was it that a good portion of the three million rivets holding the hull together contained high levels of slag, making them fracture prone? Others offer this is as the answer.

Or was it that the steel was too brittle to handle the icy conditions and simply fractured on impact with that damned iceberg? There’s another group weighing in with evidence there.

We reckon the team at Victorian Testing and Inspection Services – if we were on the job at the time – could at least have vouched for the quality (or otherwise) of the materials used in the Titanic’s manufacture.

The Titanic was, at the time of sailing, the largest and most luxurious passenger liner of its time and unfortunately the development and standardisation of the Charpy test was in its infancy.

But just think: if we were on hand, there’d be no controversy to settle more than a century later, no sunken Titanic, no missing passengers … and no teeth-gnashing over Celine Dion’s rendition of My Heart Will Go On, the featured song from the 1997 movie of the same name!

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How a French metallurgist changed all our lives

Turn the clock back to the first day of September in 1865, when a bouncing baby boy was born to a couple in France. Augustin Georges Albert Charpy, later to become a metallurgist and one of France’s three “founding fathers” in the science of alloys, was, no doubt, no more remarkable than any other baby born at the time. But his life’s work would come to impact on all our lives in ways that you might never imagine.

Charpy was the brains behind – we are sorry to state the obvious – the Charpy impact test. The Charpy impact test is a method that continues to be used today, including here at Victorian Testing and Inspection Services.

Initially employed to measure the brittleness of metals, it can also be used to test the relative toughness of other materials under impact, such as ceramics and polymers. It is considered a quick and economical methodology.

Here’s how it works:

  • The material being tested is held securely at each end
  • A standardized striker is attached to the end of a weighted pendulum
  • The pendulum swings and strikes the material being tested, breaking it
  • The energy absorbed by the material is recorded by measuring the decrease in speed of the pendulum arm as it impacts the metal.

Charpy tests are useful for determining whether a metal is brittle or ductile (pliable). A brittle metal will absorb less energy than a ductile metal. Testing under differing conditions, for example, high or low temperatures, will ascertain whether the materials being tested are suitable for the uses to which they are put.

Essentially it is the method used to ensure the quality and reliability of steel products in industries including construction, defence, energy and machinery and equipment manufacturing.

Which means that Augustin Georges Albert Charpy’s influence was very extensive indeed.

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