One of the key decisions in the development of every product is the selection of the materials of which it will be constructed. But as new materials and manufacturing methods have proliferated, this decision has become more complex. Here, Joshua Devlin, materials scientist at Matmatch, explains why material selection has traditionally been so difficult and the importance of other factors involved in the decision-making process.
When developing a new product there are several key decision points involved. In addition to choosing a material, developers need to consider function, design, manufacturing and cost. Each of these aspects has a push-pull relationship with one another.
A set constraint in any of these areas will have a flow-on effect influencing the others. These relationships create a complex optimisation problem during product development. Of all these decision points, material selection – due to its complexity – is arguably the most difficult.
Selection of the right material or materials has increased in complexity over time as new materials and manufacturing methods become available and the amount of in-depth material data has increased.
According to Myer Kutz, author of Handbook of Materials Selection, there is an estimated 100,000 potential materials for a designer to select from, and this number is only growing every year. Engineers are required to evaluate these materials based on a broad range of information, including anything from material strength and corrosion properties to recyclability and source location.
Accessing this information is key to making a choice, but navigating to find the right information is a recurring problem for engineers.
Until now, one of the main challenges has been that there is no single location to find all the required information. Many people still rely on general search engines, traditional methods like textbooks and material supplier catalogues, as well as leaning on in-house expertise and external consulting. The problem with these methods is that the information is relatively inaccessible by modern standards and is dispersed across multiple sources.
Modern digitised sources for material data, while considerably easier to access, still suffer from several limitations, such as narrow scope, limited scientific information or a lack of links to trusted material suppliers.
A review of online material data resources by J. H. Westbrook (2003) found that while there are numerous sources for material data on the internet, a step change in their presentation, accessibility and scope was required for them to really modernise the material selection process.
The flow on effect of product developers not having direct access to material information hinders their ability to make an informed selection. This may result in project problems, from increases in development periods to a reduced capacity for innovation in respect to material selection.
Materials comparison website, Matmatch, was founded to address these problems mentioned. The company’s goal is to provide easily accessible, diverse and detailed material information online.
Matmatch is ambitiously working towards developing a modern material selection knowledge hub, combining quantitative material data with qualitative information such as applications and processing methods.
To construct this solution, Matmatch is combining information from traditional materials sources, some modern digital sources and materials manufacturers. The aim is to link general material properties, manufacturing information, standards, use cases, available suppliers and more to provide the most comprehensive set of information for materials.
By developing a unified database linking specific information around materials, Matmatch is empowering product developers and design engineers to make the best material selection. This approach illustrates that while the range of materials available is becoming more complex, the material selection process doesn’t need to get more complicated.
Filed Under: Materials • advanced