Design for Materials

Every design and engineering school has a course on materials and processes.  They deal with material properties for metals in sheet, cast or machined form and stone or concrete.

Microsoft Word - Document1Since the 1940’s the number of materials have grown rapidly with the addition of petroleum based polymers in their varied families, structure and the processes that form them into usable items. Plastics have the ability to be tailored to specific applications with specific properties. Add to that a wide range of fiber reinforcements and the options are almost endless.

I’ve had some interesting discussions about the use of plastic materials. How they should look, or not look, like a copy or representation of another material.

This is referred to as truth to materials. A tenet of modern architecture which holds that any material should be used where it is most appropriate and its nature should not be hidden.

It was always an interesting subject to contemplate but just adds to the confusion of where and how to use Plastics. These materials in themselves are just globs of goo. But when temperature is applied and or chemical cross-linking of the material occurs (polymerization) thermoplastics become more or less viscous, while thermosetting plastics become non-reversible solids. That’s a pretty simple explanation of a complex chemical process that can produce a very wide range of materials with very different properties. Needless to say, plastics only become something when we decide what that something should be.

Define Part FeaturesWhich brings me to my point. One of the early steps in the product development process is to define the requirements of the product you are trying to create. These include mechanical properties, chemicals it will come in contact with, the environment it will be used in, temperature range during operation, product volume and cost range. Then we can choose the materials and manufacturing processes that best fit those characteristics. Define the product characteristics and then choose the material, not the other way around.

Having a design team with the knowledge to get you though this material maze is critical to the success of your product. Design Network can help!