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Charpy V-Notch Requirement for Crash Tested Steel Post & Rail System

State WI
Description Text For a crash tested steel post and rail sytem for bridges or culverts, are any of the materials used in the components of this system (post, rails, base plates, etc.) required to pass a Charpy V-Notch test for the temperature zone they are to be used in? Does this help provide a more crash-worthy system. I have found some states that call for this on their standard details and was wondering if this is a requirement that all states should be implementing. Thanks for any information you can share.
  • Bridge Rails
  • Guardrail
Other Keywords Charpy V-Notch
Date December 11, 2013


Charpy V-notch testing is used to evaluate the toughness of a given steel. Toughness is generally defined as the energy absorption of the steel during impact loading. The Charpy test evaluates this by impacting a notched specimen with a pendulum type impactor and recording the energy absorbed during fracture. These tests can be run at lower temperatures to evaluate the affect of ductile to brittle transition temperatures on steel. So I can see why some states would have an interest in these types of tests.

Notched-bar impact tests are used to determine the tendency of a material to behave in a brittle manner. This type of test will detect differences between materials which arc not observable in a tension test. The results obtained from notched-bar tests are not readily expressed in terms of design requirements, since it is not possible to measure the components of the triaxial stress condition at the notch. Furthermore, there is no general agreement on the interpretation or significance of results obtained with this type of test. For example, different types of notched specimen tests can generate different transition temperature values, thus making it hard to use as a evaluation criteria.

The Charpy specimen has a square cross section  and contains a 45° V notch. The specimen is supported as a beam in a horizontal position and loaded behind the notch by the impact of a heavy swinging pendulum. The specimen is forced to bend and fracture at a high strain rate .

The principal measurement from the impact test is the energy absorbed in fracturing the specimen. After breaking the test bar, the pendulum rebounds to a height which decreases as the energy absorbed in fracture increases. The energy absorbed in fracture is rendered directly from a calibrated dial on the impact tester.

That said, it would be difficult to determine what would be an acceptable performance for the Charpy testing. The Charpy test does not measure ductility directly rather only the drop in fracture energy as temperature drops. Thus, it cannot determine what the ductility of a steel is at a given temperature without further testing.

In addition, I don't believe that we have a clear definition of what type of drop in ductility would be detrimental to the performance of our safety hardware. While there would be some limit, it would likely take further research to define that accurately. We have not defined that to date, and I have no knowledge of barrier failure in accidents that were directly attributable to reduced ductility at low temps. A basic limit could be that the ductility should remain above the limitations for the steel spec for the component. However, additional testing beyond the Charpy test would be needed to define the ductility accurately. Thus, it would be difficult to show that Charpy testing would provide for a more crashworthy system without further research to determine the limits of safe ductility and toughness in our hardware and additional testing outside of the Chary tests to measure that ductility.  It would be recommended that research would need to be conducted to define the parameters for the Charpy test evaluation for the roadside safety hardware components in question.

Two of the more critical components in a guardrail are the beam rail and the post. Ductile to brittle transition in steel is largely related to carbon content. I looked at some of our recent material certs from guardrail testing and found carbon contents for those components (A992 for the post and M180 for the guardrail) between 7-20%. These would classify as low carbon steels. While I don't have exact data on these specific steels, general data available on Charpy impact tests for low carbon steels (attached) indicate that carbon contents below 20% will not induce reduced toughness until temperatures around 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus, the issue may not even be relevant unless extremely cold temperatures are prevalent.


Date January 29, 2014
Attachment CharpyImpactNotes.jpg

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