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Engineering Materials

Materials Buyers Are Multitaskers

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Beth Stackpole
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Say goodbye to silos
Beth Stackpole   10/23/2012 8:44:00 AM
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Very interesting survey results, Ann. With the renewed focus on manufacturing excellence and quality, it makes sense that engineers can no longer make decisions in silos. Also, today's competitive products don't just demand the least expensive materials, but the most efficient and cost effective materials. There's definitely a difference.

Based on the sentiments that the survey bore out, it's heartening to see the design tool vendors keeping up, offering capabilities that can help leverage simulation as a means of exploring optimal materials choices as well as serving up tighter integration with manufacturing and sourcing systems as part of breaking down silos.

Dave Palmer
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Materials selection
Dave Palmer   10/23/2012 2:45:44 PM
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I am a materials engineer for an outboard engine manufacturer.  Sometimes people ask me what part of the engine I'm responsible for.  I tell them, "Everything that's made out of anything."

Materials selection is an important task, because everything has to be made out of something.  You only need to take a glance at the Made by Monkeys and Sherlock Ohms blogs to see the consequences of making something out of the wrong material.

As Ann's article points out, there are a huge number of considerations that have to be weighed when selecting the proper material for an application.  Some companies expect design engineers to be able to take care of materials selection on their own.  In my experience, this is both unrealistic and inefficient.  

Expecting each individual design engineer to accumulate enough materials knowledge to handle any given situation (in addition to the mechanical, electrical, thermal, CAD, and CAE knowlege they need) is unreasonable.  With the exception of a few rare geniuses, most people are simply not capable of being experts in all of these disciplines.  Besides, there is simply not enough time in a 24-hour day.  Having one or more degreed and experienced materials engineers, preferably with a well-equipped materials lab, is far more efficient.

For companies that can't afford this, seeking out a materials engineering consultant may be a good investment.  The cost of doing so may be far less than the cost of making something out of the wrong material.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Materials selection
Ann R. Thryft   10/23/2012 4:10:53 PM
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Dave, thanks for your input. I was surprised to find out how many design engineers listed materials engineering or manufacturing engineering as a second job function that they were clearly not formally trained in, as well as how many are responsible for determining/deciding on materials.

Nancy Golden
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Re: Materials selection
Nancy Golden   10/23/2012 6:08:10 PM
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Interesting article, Ann and really great news about the "return to quality" revolution. I am really not surprised at the increasing roles that design engineers are playing in selecting materials. From my past experience, most companies utilize engineering talent wherever it is found, when there is a need to be met. As a test engineer I was on occasion software programmer, hardware designer, product/parts purchaser, fixture designer, software trainer, webmaster, and technical writer...but I also had other engineers to consult with when I was treading in unfamiliar territory.

I think for a design engineer to be able to have a hand in materials selection is a wonderful thing. They have true ownership and experience to back their choices - any engineer that I am acquainted with is multi-disciplined by nature. But I also agree with Dave that their expertise will be limited. The design engineer teamed up with a materials engineer would be the ideal.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Materials selection
Ann R. Thryft   10/24/2012 12:03:24 PM
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Nancy, thanks for your input about engineers' multiple roles in materials selection. To clarify, my comments about the return to quality in US manufacturing were not derived from this study, but from what we've been hearing and seeing from many different sources.

Nancy Golden
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Re: Materials selection
Nancy Golden   10/24/2012 12:24:12 PM
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Thanks for the clarification, Ann - it is nice to see that while your comments were not derived from this study, the data you included: "Quality, performance, and reliability were the top three factors chosen by survey respondents" certainly indicates that it is reflective of the current trends you mentioned. Thanks for a great article!

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Materials selection
Ann R. Thryft   10/25/2012 1:15:22 PM
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Yes, that's what I thought--that the survey confirmed what we've been seeing in other ways.

Charles Murray
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Re: Materials selection
Charles Murray   10/23/2012 6:52:13 PM
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Most mechanical and structural engineers understand materials on the basis of our Strength of Materials and our metallurgy classes in college. They (we) look at tensile and compressive strength, modulus of elasticity, Rockwell hardness and a few other characteristics. Beyond that, we're out of our depth and most of us admit it.

Greg M. Jung
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Pricing
Greg M. Jung   10/23/2012 8:32:29 PM
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Very good article.  In addition to all of the multiple functions mentioned, engineers also have obtain cost reductions from their suppliers and often have to perform price reduction negotiations.  Not only do engineers have to be technically savvy, they also have to have a sharp business mind as well.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Pricing
Rob Spiegel   10/24/2012 11:52:38 AM
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Good point, Greg. It makes sense, though, that the engineer be involved in price negotiations. That person would be most aware of the price flexibility at the supplier. Also, that engineer would know what flexibility her or she has when it comes to structuring an efficient relationship with the supplier. Offering an efficiency flow can help the supplier cut costs.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Pricing
Ann R. Thryft   10/24/2012 12:04:01 PM
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Greg, good point about the price negotiations engineers must also perform, in addition to everything else. Seems to me that engineers are starting to look a lot like the Renaissance men and women of US manufacturing.

Dave Palmer
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Re: Pricing
Dave Palmer   10/24/2012 1:19:52 PM
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@Greg: Price negotiations should be the responsibility of the purchasing department.  I don't see anything praiseworthy in a purchasing department that delegates its role to already-overworked engineers.

Supporting the purchasing department by identifying cost-reduction opportunities is one thing, but it's a real shame when engineers have to get involved in commercial issues.

Greg M. Jung
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Re: Pricing
Greg M. Jung   10/24/2012 6:08:19 PM
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As an engineer, I would prefer to go back to a simpler time, when price and availability were the responsibility of the Purchasing department.  However, at many companies today, upper management expects (and sometimes demands) that everyone try to uncover cost reductions and that every department (including engineering) bring some type of cost reduction savings to the table.  At first, this was an uncomfortable role, however, as time went on, I appreciated learning from our Purchasing group and developing this skill set.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Pricing
Ann R. Thryft   10/25/2012 1:20:02 PM
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This is an interesting discussion about purchasing vs engineering entering into price negotiations. My second tech editor job was with Electronic Buyers' News (EBN) in the very early 90s, where I learned first how important purchasing was to the (mostly electronic) component buying process and then later, in the mid 90s, how PMs were disappearing from the process and engineers were taking over purchasing functions. Looks like the pendulum has swung back to engineers for at least some of these duties.

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