Product fails

Breaking objects is part of the normal day to day operations at the materials test center in Greensborough North Carolina. We learn how these experts are breaking everyday items in an effort to save lives.


Breaking objects is part of the normal day-to-day operations at the Materials Test Center in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Up next, learn how these experts are breaking everyday items in an effort to save lives.

Have you ever wondered, 'Just how strong are those straps holding down the loads on the highway'? This might give you an idea.


It's called a tension or strength test.

15 thou, 17...

I love breaking stuff.


Because it goes, 'Boom.'

Welcome to the fail lab where discoveries are all about failures.

The strap is rated for 17,000 pounds of force.

We not only get to break things but we get to design the different ways to break things, you know?

We have to think about how to test these certain products.

It's officially called the Materials Test Center at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering.

It's a partnership between North Carolina A&T State University and the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

Well, you just really have to have some sort of standard to go by like we were talking about with these straps, you know?

These could be the difference between life and death in a lot of situations.

Companies hire the lab and its researchers to test their products and break them.

You actually do want it to fail because we need it to fail so that we can quantify its failure strength.

It's very important especially when human life is involved.

It's important in the sense that we, again, can quantify the strengths so that when we do engineering design and loading, we know what they are, and we know where our limits are so that we don't ever go to them or exceed them, so yeah.

It's important to break stuff.

The work isn't always a matter of life and death.

This is a textile tension test.

It measures the strength and stretchiness of a new fiber for clothing.

Textile firms use the information to design material for clothes that are strong yet flexible.

But it's not the breaking of items that makes the fail lab unique.

There we go.

Are we ready to go up?

It's the research and feedback the lab provides to customers about why a product failed and what could be done to prevent the failure that makes the lab's work so valuable.

We provide the information that engineers use to design stuff with.

A lot of times, they might have a problem where they're trying to figure out what is wrong.

That's where we can come in and, say, test it here and there, give them guidance on where to look as to what the resolution would be.

Researchers can perform 13 different tests of mechanical and physical properties on products.

We're applying a shearing load and measuring the force that it takes to shear that as well as some electronic instrumentation here to measure strain.

This balsa wood composite is light but strong.

The composite broke at 6,400 pounds...

This has no structural integrity at all.

...about the weight of 1 1/2 cars, which brings us back to where we started this story, on the highway.

My job is to make sure that I get this from point A to point B safely and hurt no one in between that point.

This truck driver pulled into a rest stop along Interstate 40 near Greensboro.

He's taking a break from the road hauling Sheetrock to Columbia, South Carolina.

He's also checking the cloth straps that hold down the load.

As you drive along, the load settles, so you have to make sure that there's still a right tension and whatnot.

You can't overtighten Sheetrock because it will crack it.

Nine straps secure the thousands of pounds and hundreds of sheets of wallboard to the flatbed now exposed to the elements and the wear and tear of daily use.

You got to make sure that the straps haven't frayed, or if something just makes a tear of about an inch, that takes away the tension strength of the strap.

Each strap can hold up to 5,400 pounds.