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Tension Force

Reviewed by Faysal Fayez Eliyan, PhDCheckmark
Last updated: May 16, 2021

What Does Tension Force Mean?

Tension force is the force generated when a load is applied at one or more ends of a material in a directional away, normally to the cross-section of the material. A tension force is often given as a "pulling" force. The load being placed upon the material must be applied axially to be a tension force.

The tension forces to which a component or a structure are exposed is of major concern when selecting materials to withstand stress.

A tension force in physics is a force developed in a rope, string, or cable when stretched under an applied force. Tension is acted along the length of the rope/cable in a direction that is opposite to the force applied on it. Tension can also at times be referred to as stress, tensity or tautness.

A tension force falls under the category of contact forces, as it can only be exerted when there is contact between a cable and an object of consideration. This type of force always pulls but never pushes. Reducing pulling reduces tension, while increasing pulling increases tension.

Tension allows force to be transferred across relatively large distances.


Corrosionpedia Explains Tension Force

Tension force is one of the most common forces. For this, many materials are specified by what is known as their tensile strength. The tensile strength helps designers understand the amount of tension force a material would be able to withstand. From what is known as the yield tensile strength, the amount of tension force that would cause a material to plastically deform can be calculated. From the ultimate tensile strength, the tension force at which a material failure would occur can be calculated.

Tension forces are encountered in many different applications. One example of a tension force is a seat belt clip in a car upon impact. The seat belt clip must be able to withstand the force of a body being propelled forward during a traffic accident. Another example is a less acute instance of a tension force occurs in a suspension bridge that constantly undergoes the onboarding and offloading of cars. If the cable material does not have an adequate tensile strength, then a bridge failure could occur.

There is no one formula to calculate the tension force in all circumstances. Often, Newton's second law is used to calculate the normal force:

tensile force equation
Every physical object that is in contact with another object exerts some type of force on it and vice versa. The contact forces are referred to by different terms based on the nature of objects. If one of the forces in question that is the exerting object is a rope, cable or chain, it is referred to as tension.


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