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.
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.
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.
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.
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