Editorial Feature

What is the Difference Between a Physical Property and a Mechanical Property?

Article updated on 25 November 2020

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The latter part of the 20th century saw significant advancements in the field of material sciences, nanotechnology, materials processing. These developments have led to the production of materials targeted at providing solutions in various key areas, including communications, transportation, nuclear applications, and manufacturing. The successful development of products within these sectors is particularly reliant on a number of material properties.

Material properties are physical, chemical, or mechanical components of a specific product that would determine its functionality and manufacturability. This would mean that a product’s material properties would specifically define the capabilities of the products in all aspects. Moreover, such a concept would set certain limitations—based on product composition or property—on the product’s performance. Conversely, a product’s intended functionality should also set specific property requirements that need to be met in order for the final product to be considered useful.

Physical Property of Materials

A material’s physical properties denote the physical state of materials that are exclusive of their chemical or mechanical components. In particular, these properties encompass texture, density, mass, melting and boiling points, and electrical and thermal conductivity. All such physical properties are measurable or observable. These properties are not constant (will change when subjected to certain variables such as heat).

Discussed below are the most common physical properties that are used in selecting or differentiating materials:

  • Density – implies the weight of a material, with higher density rates implying heavier materials
  • Melting point – the minimum required temperature for a solid material to change into liquid
  • Color – the reflective property of a material
  • Boiling point – the minimum required temperature for a liquid material to change into gas

Mechanical Property of Materials

A material’s mechanical properties refer to components that react against an applied load. An essential characteristic of all mechanical properties is their ability to describe the material’s ability to resist deformation. These mechanical properties determine the scope and limits of a material’s functionality, as well as establish expected service life or performance. Among industries, materials are usually classified and identified in terms of such properties. Common mechanical properties that are considered in a wide array of materials are stiffness, toughness, strength, ductility, hardness, and impact resistance.

The mechanical properties of materials are not constant; they continuously change when exposed to various conditions, such as heat or loading rate. Moreover, mechanical properties may be tested using the following methods:

  • Hardness testing – includes hardness tests such as Vickers, Rockwell, and Nanoindentation
  • Compression and fatigue testing – includes the testing of materials such as plastic, steel, or aluminum; also includes the testing of tensile strength
  • Scratch adhesion testing – measures adhesive failure and strength; typically utilized in meeting coating requirements

Sources and Further Reading

This article was updated on 5th May, 2020

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