From Trash to Major Interstate Repair

How bottles and jars are changing the face of civil engineering projects and the testing needs behind it all.

How many tons of recycled glass would it take to build an emergency support for one of the busiest four-lane highways in the world? I honestly wouldn’t have a clue but I know someone that does.

Theresa Andrejack Loux is the Chief Technical Officer for AERO Aggregates, a Pennsylvania-based company with a second plant in Florida and another in California coming on stream later this year. The company takes your empty bottles and jars from recycling plants and landfill sites, turning them into an eco-friendly aggregate for use in a myriad of civil engineering applications.

Foamed Glass Aggregate (FGA) has been used as backfill in numerous projects, primarily where the soil underneath is soft and compressible and cannot support too much excess weight, such as an overnight parking apron for airplanes at Philadelphia International Airport.

The Foamed Glass Aggregate weighs around one sixth of regular soil - Tinius Olsen

Fig 1.

The Foamed Glass Aggregate weighs around one sixth of regular soil

In fact, it is so effective that it was being used to build up the damaged section of the Cottman Avenue exit ramp on the I-95 interstate on the outskirts of Philadelphia, which collapsed following a tanker truck fire in June this year. A staggering 215,000 cubic feet FGA was used to support a temporary, six-lane highway while contractors rebuild the actual bridge.

“FGA is absolutely ideal for this project as it only weighs around one sixth of regular soil due to it being full of air bubbles. In the case of I-95, this will help protect the ageing sewage lines running underneath the structure as they simply couldn’t withstand the weight of another 20ft of traditional soil material,” said Theresa.

Theresa Andrejack using Tinius Olsen equipment and Horizon software to test the aggregate

Fig 2.

Theresa Andrejack using Tinius Olsen equipment and Horizon software to test the aggregate

“It was an awful accident and has caused huge inconvenience to everyone in the Philadelphia area so we’re just delighted we can help and get things moving again extremely quickly.”

The manufacturing process of the aggregate starts with cleaning the glass and then grinding it into a powder and subjecting it to a three-phase cleaning and filtering procedure. Workers then add a proprietary, mineral-based foaming agent and heat the powder in a kiln at 1,650 degrees Fahrenheit.

The material emerges from the kiln looking like a long, gray sheet of cake. Upon cooling, the material cracks into gravel-like pieces.

“We aim for the bulk density of our standard product to not be any heavier than 15 pounds per cubic foot, which corresponds to about 240 kilograms per cubic meter. We follow ASTM C29 standard for this type of bulk density measurement.”

“The other test that we run on a daily basis is a confined compressive strength test, which is what we use our Tinius Olsen 150ST machines for in each of our Philadelphia and Florida plants, with one on order for California. The company’s experience and input has been invaluable in developing the product from the get go and being a local company to ourselves has been an even bigger bonus.”

“The test method used for these compressive tests is EN 1097-11 although we’ve started down the road of trying to get a similar test standard in place at ASTM, which will obviously take some time.”

But where does all the required glass come from?

“Most communities do have some type of recycling program in place. Sometimes the trend in recent years has been that some communities have dropped glass from the materials that they’re collecting through single-stream programs but certainly there’s still many programs that do collect glass.”

“We work with recycling entities that are local to our plants to source the glass product that we need. We generally take lower-value glass because it’s the mixed color, the smaller pieces that generally can’t be used by a bottling operation or even a fiberglass plant. The glass product that we use generally goes to landfill if we don’t take it”

“When our California plant opens later this year, we will have the capacity to divert over 500 million bottles per year from landfill.”

It’s been an amazing journey for Aero Aggregates and a perfect example of how materials testing is vital to the development of any exciting new product. This is especially true with FGA, which can make such a huge difference to everyday life and Tinius Olsen looks forward to helping develop this material even further in the future.

Oh and it took the equivalent of 6.5 million glass bottles in FGA to build the supporting structure for the I-95 emergency repair………..


Useful links

Civil Engineering Testers

Compressive Strength Test

Aggregate Test

Soil Test

Model 150ST

Building & Construction

Sustainable Alternatives Gain Validation Through Materials Testing

The past few years have shown us that the world around us is finite and fragile. And we all play a part in its sustainability.  There has been a push across several industries to develop inventive, forward-looking products and technologies, while maintaining a better balance with the environment for long-term global health.

With innovation comes the unknown. Will a newly developed material stand up to the defined ASTM or ISO standards or will the use of a different material in an existing application meet the required industry standard benchmarks?  Standards exist to ensure product safety and quality, which is all for the benefit and protection of the end user.

Confidence in Material Innovations

As an industry, we are tasked with maintaining a level of confidence in the products and solutions being delivered, and standards are an important aspect of that. There are many promising examples of sustainable products that incorporate recyclable or biodegradable materials and also support an eco-friendly environment.  But to be able to confidently put these innovations into the mainstream, companies still rely on materials testing to known industry standards and specifications.

Material testing provides the insight to gauge the useability of certain materials and products in specific environments. And in the world of eco-friendly material innovation, it has helped lay the groundwork to develop solutions beyond just delivery of a product, but also to help combat climate change, to increase types and quantities of materials that can be recycled, and ultimately open doors to innovations that are solving some real-world challenges.

Recycled Glass Aggregate

The collapse of I-95 in Philadelphia, PA seemed, at first, catastrophic. Initial calculations framed the road closure in years, then possibly over several months.  So who would have thought that in a mere few weeks, this massive roadway connecting a large swath of the eastern United States would be up and running after such an epic event, using a sustainable material made from glass.

Recycled glass aggregate is not new. Formed by crushing glass into a powder, blending it with a foamy slurry, heating it and then breaking it into briquettes, the crushed aggregate is used in a number of construction applications, including as backfill or in roller applications.  The size, shape, density and strength of the aggregate all affect its long-term performance in pavement and structures.

Testing of the ultra-lightweight foamed aggregate is critical to prove its efficacy and ensure it has the strength needed to bear the weight and force of heavy-duty construction. It also confirms that the aggregate is composed of a good mix of chemicals and materials that can compact to and withstand a certain force. Thanks to testing performed using Tinius Olsen equipment, the company developing the aggregate already had the results and data to know this aggregate could serve as the backfill for the temporary lanes constructed along the highway corridor.

Testing of the aggregate is carried out with Tinius Olsen equipment

Fig 1: Testing of the aggregate is carried out with Tinius Olsen equipment.

Sustainable Wool Rope

Seaweed farming itself is not only a sustainable source for fertilizer, bio-ethanol and livestock feed, but it helps negate carbon and nitrogen levels in the ocean as well as provides a healthy ecosystem for marine life. So the fact that non-recyclable, everlasting polypropylene rope is laid on the sea floor to grow the harvested seaweed counterbalances the environmentally-friendly aspects of growing a renewable resource. And this plastic rope is washing up on coastlines across the globe, rubbing against rocks, resulting in a hard plastic crust coating the coastlines.

But what if the rope was made of biodegradable wool that itself is sustainable and renewable.  Would its physical properties still hold up as needed in the corrosive saltwater environment? Tinius Olsen is helping to answer this question.

Manufactured in a range of diameters, from small lengths to full coils, all of the wool rope currently produced is from local farms and craftspeople in the United Kingdom. But this paradigm shift for seaweed farming needs validation and is being accomplished through materials testing.  By relying on proven equipment Tinius Olsen is helping to identify the proper breaking strain as well as design the special grips needed to hold the rope for proper testing.

The sustainable rope is used to farm seaweed and shellfish

Fig 2: The sustainable rope is used to farm seaweed and shellfish

Testing of Eco-friendly Innovations

In the world of materials testing, manufacturers turn to industry standards to enable them to validate, qualify and prove the viability of their products and raw materials.  For materials pushing the envelope of what is known and acceptable, testing to a defined set of compliance levels becomes even more critically important.

Developing sustainable material alternatives and bringing them to market is no small feat. Testing validation is just one aspect of this process. Also of importance is a partner invested in the success of innovative product development and who has the technical knowledge and pedigree to deliver quality testing equipment to validate your product innovations.

Elevated Temperature Testing Validates Innovation in Additive-based Superalloy Manufacturing

Commonly used in extreme environments, such as in the aerospace, industrial and power generation markets, superalloys are a class of high-performance alloys with impressive mechanical strength as well as resistance to thermal creep and corrosion at high temperatures.  Those in the materials science and engineering industries continue to develop increased performance capabilities and seek out new applications for these advanced materials.

Although used for decades, this type of material still requires specialized manufacturing techniques and produces a lot of wasted material, driving up costs in production. Additive manufacturing, which involves melting and fusing metal powders layer by layer, has emerged as a promising technique for producing the complex geometries of superalloy components as well as for reducing material waste during production.

Also known as 3D printing, this is still a relatively new, intricate process, and a deeper understanding of the performance and durability of the materials produced using this additive method is needed. (Figure 1)

Elevated Temperature Testing

Fig 1: The production of 3D printed high temperature superalloys is still a growing area, but elevated temperature testing can remove some of the unknowns in quality and reliability.

Studying Material Behavior
Those tasked with the production of superalloys have sought out new methods to further advance this additive manufacturing of superalloys and improve the performance and reliability of superalloy components in extreme environments. Answering the questions surrounding the mechanical behavior of these additively manufactured superalloys is a critical step in enabling this modern manufactured material to move beyond skepticism and play a critical role in high-performance applications. 

Elevated temperature mechanical testing has always played a key role in the development of new materials that need to withstand extreme conditions, and additive-based superalloys are no different. By subjecting materials to elevated temperatures and mechanical stress, researchers have been able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of different materials, which has allowed them to develop new materials as well as identify ones that are better suited to specific applications.

Playing a particularly important role in the additive manufacturing of superalloys, elevated temperature mechanical testing allows researchers to study the behavior of these materials by simulating the high-temperature, high-pressure environments are often found in real-world applications. (Figure 2)

Tinius Olsen Elevated temperature testing

Fig 2: Today’s elevated temperature testing environments are total systems, comprised of the frame, chamber, sensors, specimen holders and software to help manage and analyze system data.

Why Elevated Temperature Testing?

Insights gained into the material’s microstructure and deformation behavior under different conditions can help identify potential weaknesses or failure modes in the material and inform the development of improved manufacturing processes or material designs. Proper elevated temperature testing can answer significant questions that will provide better performance and efficiency in the application of superalloys produced using additive manufacturing techniques:

  • What are the effects of different heat treatments on the mechanical properties of additively manufactured superalloys?
  • How do different alloy compositions perform under these temperature and stress extremes?
  • What strengths and weaknesses do these materials exhibit and how can each be used in specific applications?
  • With access to more accurate, repeatable data, what improved predictions can be made about a material’s behavior under extreme conditions?

Testing Today’s Superalloys

Modern elevated mechanical testing methods make use of advanced instrumentation and control technology, such as high-temperature furnaces and specialized testing frame and software configurations capable of applying precise loads, strains and temperatures to the specimens under test.

The development of these more advanced testing equipment and techniques has enabled significantly improved accuracy and repeatability, resulting in more precise insight into material behavior under extreme conditions. This has led to an increased understanding of material behavior, with researchers gaining insights into the fundamental physics of material behavior. Ultimately, new materials with improved properties and new production techniques can confidently be brought to market.

Testing standards also play a critical role in the testing of superalloys, so it’s important to note some of the more common ones used in elevated temperature testing. These include ASTM E21, ASTM E139, ASTM E145, ASTM E220, ASTM E1457 and ISO 6892-2, all of which define the test parameters, measurements and results to precisely characterize the response of material to determine its strength, performance and ensure quality to prevent failure in use as well as make informed decisions in terms of which materials to use for a given application.

Elevated mechanical testing continues to evolve and improve with new developments in materials science and technology. This materials testing method has helped to improve the safety and reliability of many critical systems, such as aircraft engines and nuclear power plants. By understanding how materials behave under extreme conditions, engineers can design systems that are better able to withstand these conditions without failing or causing harm to people or the environment. When working with new, innovative materials, such as additive manufactured superalloys, confidence in the process is just as important as confidence in the material.

Tinius Olsen Integral to Eco Friendly Aluminum Composite Panels Manufacturing

The leading manufacturer of aluminum composite panels in the Middle East, who are also delivering on their goal of achieving a sustainable business ecosystem, have been benefitting from the input of Tinius Olsen equipment and ongoing support.

RMK Industries supplies to more than 25 countries around the world. Their primary stronghold is the Middle Eastern, Asian and African markets and are trusted by internationally renown contractors, consultants and architects. They have undertaken projects with international corporations and governmental organizations such as Shangri-la Hotels, Coca-Cola, Emaar and the Roads and Transport Authority in Dubai.

Fig. 1

Bend/Flex test setup on wood sample

“RMK Industries was established more than 40 years ago and was initially focused on the trading of architectural facade products. Over the years, we transitioned into the manufacturing of high-quality architectural products and are now proud to be one of the leading manufacturers of aluminum composite panels and pre-painted aluminum coils in the Middle East,” said Quality Control Manager, Charmaine Timario

“Our aluminum composite panels are formulated using the finest raw materials and the latest technologies, resulting resulting in premium quality products that match or exceed industry benchmark standards, ensuring compliance with the most stringent international standards such as ASTM, NFPA , LEED by USGBC, EN and ISO.”

Aluminum composite panels are lightweight cladding panels for use as external building facades and fascia to improve the aesthetic appeal and weather resistance of buildings. The flat panels consist of two thin aluminum sheets bonded to a modified mineral filled fire retardant core and when correctly specified, installed and officially certified to perform to code, regulations and fire safety laws, have several advantages including robust durability, light weight and high weather resistance as well as being cost effective, easy to install and low maintenance.

Fig. 2

Preparation of test with 25kN Universal Testing Machine with Wedge grips clamping on test sample.

“Across the entire product portfolio of RMK, we are invested in the quality of our products through continuous enhancement of our production processes, a strong focus on quality control and, especially, creating a green footprint though all our manufacturing processes,” continued Charmaine.

“Achieving a sustainable ecosystem has been a core goal of ours since we got into manufacturing, and we have taken and continue to take, the necessary steps to achieve this goal. Our facilities are powered by renewable energy sources, such as solar panels and water reuse systems. We also promote the use of electric vehicles, having installed electric car charging stations in our facilities. We have adopted the use of sustainable methods throughout our manufacturing processes. We’ve done this by having a solvent recovery system in our innovatory coil coating line, ensuring the reuse of any wastage during production.”

Adhesive peel test set up

Fig. 3

180° peel strength test of adhesive material.

“Our aluminum coil coating line uses chrome-free chemicals and lead-free paints and we are one of the first companies in the region to be equipped with a Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer (RTO) that neutralizes 99%+ of air pollutants during the coil coating process, helping us minimize our environmental impact. Our products are 100% recyclable and are LEED-certified, contributing up to 30 points towards LEED projects.”

“Our green initiatives will help us achieve a positive and far-reaching impact on our planet, with an estimated clean energy generation of more than 19,000 MWh and more than 8000 tonnes of carbon emissions that will be avoided.”

With this and production in mind, the company ensures each product reaches all recognized international standards, with RMK operating their own in-house testing lab undertaking a wide range of tests through the entire manufacturing process.

“We conduct numerous mechanical property tests on our products using our Tinius Olsen 25ST, such as the 180 degrees peel strength test, drum peel strength, tensile strength, punch shear strength, bending strength and various others.”

Adhesive peel test running

Fig. 4

180° peel strength testing in action.

“After a year of acquiring the 25ST, it has proved to be exceptional in meeting our material testing requirements. It helps us assure our products are delivered to the highest of standards.”

“We chose Tinius Olsen equipment due to its history, reliability and ease of use in the field of material testing. With Tinius Olsen, we can ensure our products are meeting the highest quality standards, helping us deliver the best to our customers. We are also happy with the technical support team who visits us both off and on site from time to time.”

Useful links

Tensile Testing

Peel Testing

Flexural Testing

25ST Testing Machine

New Material Advancements Engineered from Beetle Wings

Many modern innovations can be traced to adaptations of the natural world around us, but applying the principles found in nature to real-world implementations is not exactly apples-to-apples.  Velcro comes from a plant burr, wind turbines are based off a whale fin and road reflectors that help guide us at night can be traced to the reflective properties of a cat’s eye.

Recently, engineers turned their attention to the unique bell-shaped wing structure of a sun beetle (Pachnoda marginata). Because of its two distinguishable layers—a bell-shaped upper layer and a nearly straight lower layer—the wing is stiff in tension and upward bending, but flexible in compression and downward bending.  (Figure 1)

Fig. 1

Sun beetle (Pachnoda marginata)

This discovery on how the beetle’s hindwing membrane changes shape in flight has enabled the London South Bank University School of Engineering to develop a one-way hinge design with biomimetic applicability over a considerable size range. Biomimetic materials are synthetic materials that replicate natural biological objects. And because they are man-made, these material designs need testing.

A New Hinge Design Takes Flight

The insect-inspired hinge concept is being explored across many industries, including a modular design that can easily be assembled and disassemble, as a design for adaptive airless tires and as metamaterials with zero Poisson’s ratio, where the compressive behavior of the material is controlled using joints, since the material does not transversally deform in response to an axial strain.

Hamed Rajabi, Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering & Design at the university’s School of Engineering, explained, “By systematically varying its design parameters in a computational model, we showed that the properties of the double-layer membrane hinge can be tuned over a wide range. This enabled us to develop a broad design space, which we later used for model selection.”

“We used selected models in three distinct applications, which proved that the double-layer hinge represents a simple, yet effective, design strategy for controlling the mechanical response of structures using a single material and with no extra mass.” (Figure 2)

Fig. 2

Model-based designs showed that the double-layer membrane hinge properties could be tuned over a wide range for application development across a broad design space.

Engineering New Materials

To ensure these various model-based scenarios had real-world applicability, Rajabi employed a universal testing machine (UTM) equipped with a 500N loadcell from Tinius Olsen to not only performed the required tension and compression testing, but also to be used in combination with the custom setups developed by Hamed and his team.

Available with a variety of loadcells at differing capacities to give precise applied load measurements, the robust 1ST is designed for tension, compression, flexure and shear strength testing on materials and assemblies. It can handle scenarios from the smallest test specimen to ones that go to full machine capacity.

“The support from Tinius Olsen with this project was incredible. The comprehensive help and support provided with the selection of the correct testing machine, load cell and accessories was invaluable. Their support staff were always available to answer any questions we had and the full day instruction on the 1ST and Horizon software was especially helpful, as well as developing all the testing protocols we required. We certainly wouldn’t have achieved what we have with this study without the company’s input,” noted Rajabi.

For the modular designs, the double-layer membrane hinge was tested in three-point bending and subjected to a displacement of 10 mm at a constant velocity of 1 mm/sec in two opposite directions.

Both the airless tire and metamaterial were tested in compression, with the airless tire design subjected to a displacement of 20 mm at a constant velocity of 1 mm/sec between two flat plates, while the metamaterial subjected to a maximum force of ~500N at an increasing displacement of 1 mm/sec between two flat plates. (Figure 3)

Fig. 3

Material testing of the designs proved critical to ensure the safety, reliability and validity of the engineered concepts.

Proper Testing Scenarios

Compression testing measures fundamental variables, including stress, strain and deformation as a material experiences a compressive load, to help determine the behavior or response of that material. The goal is to determine whether a material is suitable for specific applications or if it will fail under specified stresses.

Tensile strength is the stress at which a material breaks or permanently deforms and is common when testing materials used in structural applications or in mechanical designs.  Typically, a clamped specimen is subjected to a constant rate of tensile loading such that it stretches and ultimately breaks.

When engineering new materials that will be brought to market, these are critical parameters to ensure both reliability and safety as well as improve cost-efficiencies. Knowing the expected outcome of an initial new concept will help engineers move farther into product development and technological innovation.

Rajabi explains, “This biological one-way hinge offers biometric inspiration for the design and development of engineering structures that exhibit asymmetric responses to equal forces applied in different directions. This is particularly interesting because the double-layer membrane offers a simple, inexpensive way of making a one-way hinge without increasing the mass.”

But can this inspirational concept be realized in the real world? The data and insights gained using a Tinius Olsen material testing system helps engineers understand not only the limitation, but the possibilities of newly engineered materials.  The results enable even further applications of new innovations, like in the case of the hinged beetle wing.

“In this particular instance, the hinge is of a double membrane type, which is dependent on reversible thin-plate buckling. From real-scale computational simulations and upscaled physical modelling, it was confirmed this double-layer membrane can act as a one-way hinge.”

Materials Testing Strengthens Innovation

Our modern world runs on the engineered technologies made possible through innovation, but it is materials testing that has long been relied upon to bring these concepts to fruition.  Realizing design advancements beyond hypothesis requires solid analytics and proven testing methods that will ensure product reliability, consumer safety and long-term yield.


Useful links

Compression Testing

Tensile Testing

1ST Testing Machine

Polymers – Solution to your quality issues


Download Plastics Brochure


One important factor when developing a new plastic product is testing. Only by testing raw materials, components and the finished item according to relevant standards can you be confident that your plastic product meets the high expectations of the market and is strong and flexible enough to function in the way that it has been designed.

Some of the most common test types within plastics testing include tensile strength, wet strength, elongation to rupture, yield strength, folding endurance, impact strength, heat distortion, melt flow, puncture, modulus, Poisson's ratio, compressive, flexural, shear and friction. All of these test types can be performed on Tinius Olsen's high-precision testing machines.

Our material testing and force measurement instruments are used by some of the most innovative companies in the world. We specialize in custom material testing solutions designed to meet the individual needs of our clients. Our involvement in the plastics industry spans decades, giving us extensive experience in this field. All test hardware is fully complemented by our Horizon software.



Tinius Olsen's versatile benchtop polymer testing machines can perform many materials test routines that meet ASTM, ISO and other international specifications, including tensile, compressive, tear, peel, flexural, puncture, shear and frictional resistance tests.

Our IT503 and IT504 Impact Testers feature heavy duty construction with an aerodynamic compound pendulum, ensuring maximum rigidity in the direction of impact.

The model MP1200 melt flow tester/extrusion plastometer is offered in two configurations, both of which are fully compliant with the requirements of ASTM D1238, ISO 1133 and other international standards.

The benefits of PEEK Plastics in Implant Surgery


An established contract manufacturer of high grade materials, state-of-the-art machinery and innovative team-oriented services have recently upgraded their quality testing capabilities with a new Tinius Olsen 5ST, 5kN testing machine. The company deliver everything from spinal implants, pedicle screw systems, implant-grade PEEK spacers and other medical devices. 

Of particular interest for their quality program are their implant-grade PEEK spacers. PEEK, short for polyether ether ketone, is a semicrystalline thermoplastic polymer, with excellent mechanical and chemical resistance properties that are retained to high temperatures.
This colorless organic polymer has various engineering applications, as well as being considered an advanced biomaterial for the use in medical implants. These are commonly known as PEEK implants and include minimally invasive spinal, lumbar and thoracic implants. It is also used with a high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), for creating a partial replacement skull in neurosurgical applications.
The primary reasons why PEEK implants are preferred by medical institutions include: 
* Resistance to attack by organic and aqueous environments within the body  
* Robust character that gives them the ability to undergo intense precision fabrication  
* Non-toxic and safe for human applications


PEEK is also finding increased use in spinal fusion devices and reinforcing rods. 

The polymers other applications within the world of manufacturing include aerospace, automotive and chemical process industries. Because of its robustness, PEEK is used to fabricate items used in demanding applications, including bearings, piston parts, pumps, High-performance liquid chromatography columns, compressor plate valves, and electrical cable insulation. It is one of the few plastics compatible with ultra-high vacuum applications. 

The manufacturer’s investment in a superior quality control program, with sophisticated Tinius Olsen testing equipment, has added peace of mind to the company’s capabilities and reputation. And with an ever expanding list of applications for PEEK, the durability of this equipment will satisfy all their testing requirements for years to come.

3D Printing – Role of materials testing


Robotic exoskeleton technology has been with us for almost sixty years but the most recent advances in its composites base could see it being an integral part of missions to Mars in the 2030’s.


To many of us the term exoskeleton is reserved for the realms of science fiction or conjures up images of body armour clad superheroes such as Iron Man or even Batman. Although the vast majority of these have sprung from the fertile imaginations of artists and writers, the equally fertile lobes within the scientific community are turning this science fiction into science fact.


An exoskeleton is a rigid structure that wraps around the body and is often used to assist joint movement. This ‘exosuit’ try’s to act like an artificial muscle, aiding the wearers’  muscles to contract and extend.

The development of the first robotic exoskeletons can be traced back to around 1965, when General Electric developed the Hardiman, a large full-body exoskeleton designed to augment the user’s strength to enable the lifting of heavy objects.

The first exoskeletons for gait assistance were developed at the end of the 1960’s at the Mihajlo Pupin Institute, Serbia and in the early 1970’s at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US.

So, step forward Dr Matt Dickinson, Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston. Matt teaches in areas around concept design, with especial focus on the application of composite materials through 3D printing technology. Working out of the University’s new multi-million pound Engineering Innovation Centre, it appears he was in the right place at the right time.


“I’ll be honest, if you told me three years ago we’d be on the verge of developing world leading exoskeleton technology, I’d have questioned your sanity but here we are,” said Matt.

“It all started thanks to a local teenager who won the regional Primary Engineer competition back in 2019. Luckily, it was my responsibility to assess each entry and this one instantly struck a cord with me, as it simply asked why there is no special suit, or exoskeleton, that a child with muscular disease can wear to aid with mobility. To me, it was such an obvious idea that there must be one out there already but how wrong I was!”

The reason for this lack of development was purely down to design. For instance, how do you produce a suit that ‘grows’ with its host, is lightweight enough to be practical as well as being low cost and thus accessible to all?

“As a mechanical engineer, my first thought was to produce the suit out of aluminium, which looking back, would have been totally impracticable as well as being horrendously expensive to produce.”

The required material needed to be lightweight and accessible but it also needed to be affordable. In short, the technology would be impracticable if no one could actually maintain it, or if lower income families couldn’t afford it.

“The structure of the suit is what’s called a passive design system, meaning it’s part exosuit, which acts as a point of contraction, like a muscle but is also a passive exoskeleton, which distributes the force and load.”


“By taking these two approach’s we are attempting to combine both of these technology’s to build a hybrid system that will support the human frame and also aid in the muscle contraction and extension, which has led to the development of a new bespoke actuation method that we have designed.”
“The material I initially looked with the potential to support this criteria was polylactic PLA. At this point, nobody had tested the material to see if it was capable of supporting the human body but the results soon indicated we had hit on something extremely special.”
The first iteration of the design proved the suitability of the composite, although issues with the materials reaction towards UV light and the potential for the lactic acid in human skin to impregnate the material, needed to be addressed.

“Skin can sometimes activate the lactic acid within the material, which would see bacteria forming and ultimately compromise its structural integrity. This led us to incorporating a material embedded with copper nanoparticles, that creates a barrier between body sweat and the composite – a perfect anti microbial if you like,” said Matt.
The project is also exploring the use of chopped carbon PET. This is due to the extra strength the composite offers, which would be utilised as the core of the supportive structures of the suit, encased in poly lactic acid and carbon fibre.
“Basically, as with all projects such as this, things are continually under development. These are the materials we’re moving forward with at the moment but we’re continually looking to develop new composites that may supersede them,” continued Matt.
“At this stage we couldn’t move any further forward until we had a better understanding of the mechanical properties of these materials, which is where Tinius Olsen comes in.”

A chance meeting at one of the UK’s major engineering show set the scene for the working partnership, which has seen the company loan, initially, a 50ST testing frame, a platform for optical extensometry, load cells as well as the companies powerful Horizon testing software. Technicians are also on hand to give advice and direction where needed.
The partnership goes way beyond just machinery and advice however. Through Tinius Olsen, Matt was introduced to ASTM International, becoming Subcommittee Chair of the  F48.04 Committee for standards in exoskeleton development.
“Primarily, what the ASTM F48 Committee are looking at, as with any R&D project that is going to be utilised with human use, is failure fatigue of the components that are being utilised. There’s also the life expectancy of the components and or material being utilised, through the usual compression, tension, and bending movements of everyday use. The Tinius Olsen machine and instruments we now have at our disposal will enable us to undertake this required testing at a much greater rate, literally taking years off the R&D time.”
“The doors this association has opened for the project are substantial, we have literally been catapulted from a lab in Preston onto the international stage, which has seen this development move forward exponentially. We literally wouldn’t have been able to get where we are currently without Tinius Olsen.”
“Our ultimate goal is develop a suit that can offer assisted living. It’s not really designed to give extra strength, more to give children with muscle disease more mobility, more independence and, most importantly, a greater quality of life.”
The suit will be going into human trials later this year.


Other Applications
It’s not just within the medical field this development can be successfully applied. As an example, space agencies such as NASA can adapt the technology into their spacesuit design for the forthcoming missions to Mars, planned for the mid 2030’s.

This can extend to military applications, not just supporting the body structure of soldiers and pilots but also ground crew and technicians responsible for the building and maintenance of heavy ordinance, tanks and aircraft.
 Professional sport can also benefit. Protective body equipment for sports such American football and rugby are obvious applications but the opportunities for the supportive treatment of sports injuries are also substantial.
 And of course the heavy lifting associated with construction and other manufacturing industries could see a reduction in work hours lost due to strain and back injuries to workers.


University of Central Lancashire, Engineering Innovation Centre


The Engineering Innovation Centre (EIC) of the University of Central Lancashire, UK is located on the Preston Campus, bringing together world-leading research, leading business minds and inspiring teaching in a spirit of collaboration and

The new £35m EIC strengthens Lancashire’s position as a national centre of excellence for aerospace, advanced engineering and manufacturing and contributes towards maintaining the UK’s reputation as a global leader in these areas. It gives engineering students opportunities to work alongside research experts and industry partners, with the chance to work on vehicles inside our aerospace and motorsports laboratory, get to grips with flight simulators and drone technology, experiment with 3D printing, and a whole lot more.

The state-of-the-art teaching and research facility engages directly with industry and provides students with real-world experience on live projects. In doing so, the EIC acts as one of the driving forces behind the industrial strategy, both on a regional and national scale, addressing the need for innovation and producing the next generation of world-class engineers.
The Centre finds possible solutions to significant priorities in contemporary society and to elements of the UK Industrial Strategy.


Its role is to manage, support and stimulate strategic development and growth of engineering research and knowledge transfer, which will enable industry to address challenges at home and overseas. Activities are focused within a range of research areas containing a diverse series of specialist laboratories, covering a wide range of sectors including composites, oil and gas, 3D printing, intelligent machines, aerospace and motorsport.

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The future of plastic Melt Flow Index Testing

Today ASTM D1238 for melt flow does not currently accommodate a closed loop MFI it is a weight loading standard only.

However, the ASTM Committee D20.30 Thermal Properties, specifically D20.30.08 Thermal Processing Properties responsible for the standard are evaluating closed loop technology, in particular accuracy, repeatability and comparison of the same with dead weight systems. At this point they have a path to updating ASTM D1238 to cover both dead weight and closed loop MFI technology.

ISO 1133-1 does allow for closed loop melt flow technology see extract from the standard in pic.

That said it does not mean ASTM are lagging, rather they take a different approach proving technology works before they add it to a standard by performing actual comparative material tests to verify measurement performance and capability in key parameters including accuracy, repeatability and being able to define a precision and bias statement. In short ASTM wants to see the technology working before it will include it in a standard.

ISO takes a different route; it verifies a technology concept capability to perform a test irrespective of results being correct and or accurate etc. If a Technology is possible, feasible in concept ISO will put it in a standard in readiness for the future technology capability to come along.

I believe MFI technology will follow the same path as tension/compression machines many many years ago and more recently hardness testers in that the use of dead weight to provide a loading force will become extinct. Closed loop systems using a load cell and a control feedback loop will eclipse weight-based products in all areas of capability including but not limited to resolution, accuracy, repeatability, productivity and safety.

At Tinius Olsen our MFI technology application experts and active participants in ASTM standards are;

Harry Yohn – Profile

John Thompson – Profile

and you can check me out at