Brinell Hardness Test: Meaning, Procedure, Formula, Standards

The hardness of a material is its ability to resist localized permanent deformation, penetration, scratching, or indentation. So, it is an important parameter in engineering. Hardness Testing provides a means to quantify the hardness of a material and it is a key element in many quality control procedures and R&D work. Several methods are available for hardness testing. However, Brinell, Rockwell, Vickers, Knoop, Mohs, Scleroscope, and the files test are the most widely used hardness tests. In this article, we will learn about the Brinell Hardness Test, its procedure, related formulas, and standards.

What is the Brinell Hardness Test?

The Brinell Hardness Test method is the most commonly used hardness measurement technique in the industry. In the Brinell Hardness Testing, the hardness of a metal is determined by measuring the permanent indentation size produced by an indenter. Harder materials will generate shallow indentations while softer materials will produce deeper indentations. This test method was first proposed by Swedish engineer Johan August Brinell in 1900 and according to his name, the test is popular as the Brinell Hardness Test. This test is also popular as the Hb hardness test or the BHN hardness test.

ASTM E10 defines the Brinell hardness test as an indentation hardness test performed in a verified machine by forcing a tungsten carbide indenter into the test material surface.

Brinell Hardness Test Procedure

The Brinell Hardness test is performed in a Brinell hardness test unit. In this test method, a predetermined force (F) is applied to a tungsten carbide ball of fixed diameter (D), held for a predetermined time period, and then removed. The spherical indenter creates an impression (permanent deformation) on the test metal piece. This indentation is measured across two or more diameters and then averaged to get the indentation diameter (d). Using this indentation size (d) Brinell Hardness Number (BHN) is found using a chart or calculated using the Brinell hardness test formula. The equipment used for Brinell Hardness Testing are:

  • Brinell Hardness Testing Machine
  • Indenter Sphere, and
  • Brinell microscope to measure the generated impression.

Brinell Hardness Testing Machine:

The Brinell Hardness Testing Machine (Fig. 1) consists of a loading system that includes leavers, weights, a hydraulic dashpot, and a plunger enclosed in the body of the machine. The test material is kept on the adjustable anvil. Using the lever, the spherical ball indenter descends on the material with a pre-decided force that can be read on the screen.

Brinell Hardness Testing Machine
Fig. 1: Brinell Hardness Testing Machine

For softer metals, the force used is less than for harder metals. The force value varies from 1 kgf to 3000 kgf. Common test forces range from 500 kgf often used for non-ferrous materials to 3000 kgf for steels and cast irons.

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There are four sizes of the indenter used for the Brinell hardness test. They are 1 mm, 2.5 mm, 5 mm, and 10 mm in size.

To obtain the same BHN with different ball diameters, geometrically similar indentations must be produced. It is possible if F/D2 is maintained constant.

Brinell Hardness Test Formula

Once the average indentation diameter is measured the Brinell Hardness Number (BHN or HBW) can be calculated using the following Brinell hardness test formula:

Brinell Hardness Test Equation
Fig. 2: Brinell Hardness Test Equation

Note that, the term HBW stands for Hardness Brinell Wolfram carbide.
Wolfram carbide (= tungsten carbide) underlines the use of tungsten carbide balls, as opposed to the (softer) steel balls previously used (HBS).

Brinell Hardness Test
Fig. 3: Brinell Hardness Test

The minimum Test Specimen thickness is at least 10 times the indentation depth as per ASTM standard and the same is at least 8 times the indentation depth as per ISO standard.

Unit of Brinell Hardness

The BHN or HB values are mostly reported using only the number. So, it seems there is no unit for the Brinell Hardness Number. But that is not true. The unit of Brinell hardness is kgf/mm2. The same is quite clear from the above-mentioned HBW formula. The force term (F) in the numerator has a unit of kgf and the diameter term (D) has a unit of mm. In the SI unit system, the unit of hardness is N/m2

Specifying Brinell Hardness Number

While specifying a Brinell hardness number (BHN or HB), the test conditions used to obtain the number must be specified. The standard format for specifying is “HBW 10/3000”. “HBW” refers to a tungsten carbide ball used as an indenter, as opposed to “HBS”, which means a hardened steel ball. The “10” is the ball’s diameter in millimeters. The “3000” is the force in kilograms force.

Sometimes, the Brinell hardness is also specified as “XXX HB YYD2” where

  • XXX is the force to apply (in kgf)
  • YY specifies the material type (5 for aluminum alloys, 10 for copper alloys, 30 for steels).

Thus the Brinell hardness of a typical steel could be written: 250 HB 30D2. The following image from Wikipedia provides some typical Brinell Hardness Values of common materials.

Typical Brinell Hardness Values
Fig. 4: Typical Brinell Hardness Values

Requirements for Brinell Hardness Testing

  • Before the test, the sample must be cleaned thoroughly. Preferable if the test surface is machined, ground, and polished to get better indentation measurement.
  • Proper indenter (Steel ball or carbide Ball) as per requirement needs to be selected.
  • The applicable force needs to be determined beforehand.
  • The load on the specimen is to be maintained for the exact period of time.
  • The indents must be positioned to keep sufficient clearance from the specimen edge and between the individual indents.
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Standards for the Brinell Hardness Test

The widely used standards for the Brinell Hardness Test in industries are:

  • ASTM E10
  • ISO 6506
  • JIS Z 2243

Advantages of the Brinell Hardness Test

The Brinell Test method has many advantages:

  • The hardness of rough samples can be measured which is difficult with other methods.
  • Application of high test load (up to 3,000 Kg) is possible.
  • Wide measuring range due to availability of a range of indenter sizes and loads
  • A Brinell hardness tester can determine the hardness of all types of metals.
  • Provides reliable results.

However, the Brinell test method has some disadvantages as well:

  • There could be measuring errors due to the use of optical instruments.
  • Surface imperfections can interfere with the test result if the surface is not prepared thoroughly.
  • The requirement of a flat surface makes this test redundant for cylindrical surfaces.
  • For materials above 650 HBW 10/3000, the Brinell hardness test is not recommended.

Brinell vs Rockwell Hardness Test | Difference between Rockwell and Brinell Hardness Test

The main difference between the Brinell and Rockwell Hardness Test is provided in the table below:

Brinell Hardness TestRockwell Hardness Test
In Brinell Hardness Test the indenter is a spherical Tungsten Carbide BallFor the Rockwell Hardness Test, the Indenter is a Small Steel Ball (HRB) or a diamond cone (HRC)
Hardness greater than 650 HB can not be measured with the Brinell Scale setup.There is no such limitation in Rockwell hardness testing.
Brinell hardness Test measures the diameter of the indentation to calculate the hardness value.Depth of indentation is measured for calculating Rockwell hardness.
The Brinell hardness testing method is a comparatively slow method.Rockwell hardness testing is a Quicker process.
Surface preparation is required for Brinell hardness testing.No surface preparation is required for Rockwell hardness testing.
 Brinell Hardness scale is comparatively costly The Brinell Hardness scale is comparatively costly
Table 1: Brinell vs Rockwell Hardness Test

Brinell, Rockwell, and Vickers Hardness Conversion Table

The approximate conversion of Brinell, Rockwell B & C, and Vickers hardness is provided below for sample only. One more column indicating approximate equivalent tensile strength is also added.

Brinell Hardness (HB)-3000Kg-10 mm BallRockwell Hardness (HRC)-150Kg BraleRockwell (HRB)- 100Kg 1/16″ BallVickers Hardness (HV)- Diamond Pyramid 120 KgApprox. Tensile strength (N/mm²)
60158 746 
59257 727 
57256 694 
55255 649 
149 81149500
147 80147490
143 79146482
141 78144481
139 77142480
137 76140475
135 75137467
131 74134461
127 72129451
121 70127431
116 68124422
114 67121412
111 66118402
107 64115382
105 62112378
103 61108373
95 56104 
90 5295 
81 4185 
76 3780 
Table 2: Brinell, Rockwell & Vickers Hardness Conversion Table

Relation between Brinell Hardness (BHN) and Tensile Strength

Note that, There is no concrete method of accurately converting the Brinell hardness numbers on one scale to Brinell hardness numbers on another scale, or to other types of hardness numbers, or to tensile strength values. Such conversions are, at best, approximations and, therefore should be avoided.

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In general, with an increase in Brinell Hardness values the tensile strength also increases. There is an approximate formula that can be used to convert BHN to tensile strength (UTS) or vice versa. The relationship between BHN and UTS is based on Meyer’s index (n) from Meyer’s law devised by Eugene Meyer.

The approximate formula for calculating tensile strength for known BHN values for carbon steel material is given as follows:

  • Tensile Strength, PSI=515 X BHN (For Brinell numbers <= 175)
  • Tensile Strength, PSI=490 X BHN (For Brinell numbers > 175)

Note that, the above approximate formulas are not applicable for nonferrous metals.

Table of Brinell Hardness Numbers

The Brinell Hardness Numbers Table can easily be generated by solving the formula given above for different load and diameter conditions. A typical table of Brinell hardness numbers is produced in Fig. 5 below from ASTM E10 Table X1.1.

Table of Brinell Hardness Numbers
Fig. 5: Table of Brinell Hardness Numbers per ASTM E10

Uses of Brinell Hardness Test

Some of the applications of the Brinell hardness test are mentioned below:

  • Quality control: The Brinell hardness test is commonly used in manufacturing and quality control to ensure that materials meet specific hardness requirements. For example, it can be used to test the hardness of steel components used in automotive, aerospace, or construction applications.
  • Material selection: The Brinell hardness test can be used to compare the hardness of different materials and to select the most appropriate material for a specific application. For example, it can be used to compare the hardness of different types of steel or to compare the hardness of steel and aluminum alloys.
  • Heat treatment evaluation: The Brinell hardness test can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of heat treatment processes on metals. For example, it can be used to determine whether a specific heat treatment has achieved the desired level of hardness.
  • Research and development: The Brinell hardness test is also used in research and development to investigate the properties of new materials and to develop new materials with specific hardness properties.
  • Failure analysis: The Brinell hardness test can be used in failure analysis to determine the cause of material failures. For example, it can be used to determine whether a component can fail due to insufficient hardness or to identify areas of a component that have been subjected to excessive stress.

Overall, the Brinell hardness test is a valuable tool for measuring the hardness of materials and is widely used in a variety of applications in industry, research, and development.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Brinell Hardness Scale?

Brinell hardness scale is a designation to identify the specific combination of ball diameter and applied force used to perform the Brinell hardness test.

Anup Kumar Dey

I am a Mechanical Engineer turned into a Piping Engineer. Currently, I work in a reputed MNC as a Senior Piping Stress Engineer. I am very much passionate about blogging and always tried to do unique things. This website is my first venture into the world of blogging with the aim of connecting with other piping engineers around the world.

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