They test the world in a laboratory. From the vast depths of the ocean (their equipment tested salvaged Titanic parts) to the unfathomable reaches of outer space, Instron® equipment is constantly put to the test. And here on Earth, just about every product you can name in our international society has undergone product integrity testing performed by this equipment. Instron Corporation of Canton, Mass., is the global market leader in the materials testing industry. “We provide the tools for our customers to test the reliability and durability of their products,” says Jim Martin, manager of marketing communications.
From Raw Materials to Finished Products Instron systems test virtually all Earth’s natural and manmade materials. These systems are used worldwide in research and independent laboratories, on production lines in diverse industries, and they are used by quality control managers in academia, industry, and government. Instron has stood the test of its time-honored 50-year tradition of providing the highest-quality products, and its 1,000 employees and 35 sales and service offices in more than 17 countries provide seamless customer service.
“Our equipment tests everything from the raw material to the final product and everything in between,” says Martin. “Even cheese and crackers are tested, and our machines work at Burger King’s headquarters and we have something like six machines at Ben and Jerry’s. These machines test the textures of the foods.” Lucky machines! It is something of a Goldilocks test: If it’s too hard, not good; too soft, not good. The texture has to be just right. “What we are really concerned with in these tests are the things related to the force applied.” Instron’s screw machines or electromechanical machines are used in these food-testing applications.
Look around your office, home, laboratory or industrial plant. Each item you see has passed the Instron test in every stage of its evolution, from raw materials to components to subassemblies to final product. Instron’s impressive customer base includes the entire Fortune 1,000 list itself — companies like Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, GE, Zimmer Corporation, Perdue, General Foods, Keebler, Campbell’s and Nabisco.
Instron’s formidable strength in offering global full-service capability comes from its discriminating and strategic acquisitions, which focused on selecting companies with a premium product or a position of technological leadership. “It is a synergistic integration,” explains Martin. Instron’s associated business operations offer systems that test and evaluate tensile/compression, fatigue, hardness, impact and service life simulation.
Instron’s business operations include Instron Schenck Testing Systems (IST), offering advanced computer-controlled systems for structural- and multi-axial-service simulation for the transportation industry. IST is a wholly owned subsidiary of Instron formed from a joint venture with Carl Schenck AG of Darmstadt, Germany. IST’s equipment is used in laboratory testing of structures and components to ensure they are fit for the purpose for which they have been designed. Components undergo durability testing to ensure the component or structure will last for its expected life; vibration and shock testing; simulation testing; squeak-and-rattle testing; and to ensure occupant safety, products are subjected to impact and crash testing to assess how a structure will fail under massively damaging loads.
Instron-SFL (Severn Furnaces Limited) manufactures environmental chambers and furnaces. SFL has a distinguished reputation of designing and manufacturing innovative equipment used in advanced high/low temperature testing equipment — from furnaces integrated with a miniature materials test system inside a scanning electron to high-temperature, rapid annealing systems used in silicon wafer production processes.
Instron-Wolpert® GmbH of Ludwigshafen, Germany, manufactures hardness, spring- and-impact testing equipment for a wide range of quality-control laboratory requirements.
“Instron-Satec® Systems is an excellent example of the synergistic value of our acquisitions,” says Martin. Satec, a market leader in metals testing in North America, is now positioned through the Instron network to sell its products worldwide. “Because of Instron’s integrating technologies, Satec can offer more powerful and comprehensive solutions.”
Wilson®/Shore® Instruments manufactures Rockwell® hardness testers and Shore durometers used for determining the indentation hardness of metals, elastomers and plastics. Wilson is the originator of the Rockwell Hardness Test, now used worldwide for quality control and heat treatment verification.
Testing: a Continuous Process
“We designed and manufactured the machines NASA used to test ceramic and fiber heat shielding systems tiles when the space shuttle was first being designed,” says Martin. “The components of each of these products were tested throughout the complicated manufacturing process, and that’s where we fit into the picture.”
Thermal mechanical fatigue testing of superalloy jet turbine blades submits the blade material to an induction-heating coil while it is gripped in a fatigue machine. The benefits to proper testing are cost-effective products offering increased safety to end users.
“Say, for example, you need to test new rubber formulations,” says Martin. “Michelin is one of our big customers making premium products, and they need to ensure tire longevity and safety. So the components are all tested using our technology.” Shore Instruments durometers have been testing the hardness of rubber since the turn of the last century, using several different Shore Hardness Scales.
Examples of other everyday products enduring extensive testing include automobile windshields and aircraft windows. “These products are subjected to impact testing using Dynatup®, Wolpert® or Satec impact testers,” says Martin. “Our Wilson-Rockwell hardness testers are used in steel mills and manufacturing plants where the properties of metals are changed due to heat treating or a work-hardening process. The Rockwell Hardness Test becomes a very critical part in the design and manufacturing process.”
IST’s full-vehicle test simulator is used by automobile manufacturers, allowing them to subject vehicles to real-life jounces and bounces. Martin says, “Our systems at Ford, Mercedes and BMW, for example, will test vehicles right from the assembly line.” Satec’s creep testers and high-capacity hydraulic testing machines examine fasteners and bolts. Fatigue tests subject the products to vibrating loads, where the force is alternately applied and removed until the product finally fatigues.
Given the precision manufactured into the sensitive equipment Instron designs, engineers and manufactures, it is no surprise that R&D plays a major role in the company. Because of its commitment to provide state-of-the-art technology, Instron systems provide the precision of measurement that exceeds the ever-tightening national and international standards.
Instron markets its products through a direct sales force, and is represented in nearly every country of the world. Now a privately owned unit of Kirtland Capital Partners, the company was public until September 1999. Despite a reduction of new orders from the depressed Asian market, Instron made significant progress in 1998 with record earnings. The last public numbers available indicated the company’s worldwide business reached $211 million. Instron’s three manufacturing facilities are located at the Canton corporate headquarters, at High Wycombe, England, and in Darmstadt, Germany.
Simplifying Vendor Management
“We see Instron continuing as the major global supplier for the complete product portfolio, offering a one-stop shopping resource,” says Martin. With Instron as the sole provider, companies can procure machines to test hardness, tensile strength, fatigue, impact, creep and environmental chambers, all under one roof without having to worry about service contracts with six different suppliers.“Instron will continue to enhance its leadership position in the materials testing and structural testing markets,” concludes Jim McConnell, CEO. “We will do this by strengthening our core business while generating financial strength for initiatives including developing new products and acquiring existing businesses and product lines to fully integrate our acquisitions into the core. We see huge opportunities globally, especially in Latin America, the Far East, Europe and China. The real challenge to us is how to take advantage of those markets and to fulfill the needs in those markets.”