Design News spends a lot of time talking about and covering the trends, advances, etc., of materials. When you think about it, there aren't too many designs that occur today without a discussion of the materials that comprise that design. That's because the choice of a material, or more specifically making the wrong material choice, can doom your design before it gets beyond the prototype stage.
What kinds of materials are we talking about? Obviously, the choice of materials is based on the application you are designing for. And the typical design factors come into play -- what's my budget, what's the life expectancy of the product, what type of environment will the product be used in, and so forth. Not until you can answer those basic questions can you begin to narrow down the choices.
When you get to that next step, you learn that there a fairly exhaustive list of materials: composites, including carbon and glass fiber; elastomers; ferrous alloys (cast iron, carbon, etc.); specialty alloys like stainless steel; lightweight alloys, like aluminum, magnesium, or titanium; standard and engineering polymers; and the list goes on and on.
We recently conducted a pretty detailed study about the use of these materials, including who is involved in the selection process, what criteria are used in the process, and so on.
Would you be surprised to learn that the mechanical engineering department has the biggest say in the material choice? Probably not. But what I did find interesting is that in almost every case, the manufacturing department was "extremely involved" in the selection of the material.
The report shows that the most important aspects of choosing a material are the quality, performance, and reliability. Surprisingly, price appeared around the middle of the list, with design assistance and vendor reputation coming in at the bottom. What does that tell you? That the material suppliers are pretty good at what they do, and that designers don't think they need any external help in their design, at least as far as the materials are concerned.
Another piece of data from the survey that caught my attention came from the question that asked designers "What other job functions do you have?" While the primary job function of the respondents was engineering/project management, product or system design engineer, or research and development (those three groups make up about 75 percent of the total list), these same folks find themselves wearing multiple hats. For example, half of them are involved in testing and evaluation, and half get roped into R&D. I guess that's just a sign of the times and shouldn't come as a surprise.
Email me if you'd like to receive a copy of the full survey.