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Rockwell Testing

Stanley P. Rockwell invented the Rockwell hardness test. He was a metallurgist for a large ball bearing company and he wanted a fast non-destructive way to determine if the heat treatment process they were doing on the bearing races was successful. The only hardness tests he had available at time were Vickers, Brinell and Scleroscope. The Vickers test was too time consuming, Brinell indents were too big for his parts and the Scleroscope was difficult to use, especially on his small parts.

To satisfy his needs he invented the Rockwell test method. This simple sequence of test force application proved to be a major advance in the world of hardness testing. It enabled the user to perform an accurate hardness test on a variety of sized parts in just a few seconds.

Rockwell test methods are defined in the following standards:
ASTM E18 Metals
ISO 6508 Metals
ASTM D785 Plastics

Types of Rockwell Tests

There are two types of Rockwell tests:
1. Rockwell: the minor load is 10 kgf, the major load is 60, 100, or 150 kgf.
2. Superficial Rockwell: the minor load is 3 kgf and major loads are 15, 30, or 45 kgf.

In both tests, the indenter may be either a diamond cone or tungston carbide ball, depending upon the characteristics of the material being tested.

Rockwell Scales

Rockwell hardness values are expressed as a combination of a hardness number and a scale symbol representing the indenter and the minor and major loads. The hardness number is expressed by the symbol HR and the scale designation.

The Rockwell hardness test is based on an inverse relationship to the measurement of the additional depth to which an indenter is forced by a heavy total (major) load beyond the depth resulting from a previously applied preliminary (minor) load. Initially a minor load is applied, and a zero datum position is established. The major load is then applied for a specified period and removed, leaving the minor load applied. The resulting Rockwell number represents the difference in depth from the zero datum position as a result of the application of the major load. The entire procedure requires as little as a few seconds up to 15 for plastics. In the Rockwell test, results are quickly and directly obtained without the need for a secondary, dimensional measurement requirement.

The most common indenter type is a diamond cone ground at 120 degrees for testing hardened steels and carbides. Softer materials are typically tested using tungsten carbide balls ranging in diameters from 1/16 in up to 1/2 in. The combination of indenter and test force make up the Rockwell scale. These combinations make up 30 different scales and are expressed as the actual hardness number followed by the letters HR and then the respective scale. A recorded hardness number of HRC 63 signifies a hardness of 63 on the Rockwell C scale. Higher values indicate harder materials such as hardened steel or tungsten carbide. These can have HRC values in excess of 70 HRC. Rockwell test forces can be applied by either closed-loop load cell or traditional deadweight systems.