Engineers can mandate tailored materials

DN Staff

April 21, 1997

4 Min Read
Engineers can mandate tailored materials

Zimmer joined JPS Elastomerics in 1985 as Sales Manager, was promoted to Director of Sales, and appointed to his current position in 1994. In this capacity, he is responsible for development and implementation of national and international sales and marketing strategies, budgets, and business plans for Stevens Urethane. His experience includes more than 30 years in sales and marketing, including positions with Uniroyal Corp., Sonoco Products Co., and B.F. Goodrich. Zimmer holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University, and a Bachelor Degree in Foreign Trade from the American Graduate School of International Management.

When it comes to materials, performance relative to cost is the driving force in design, asserts JPS's Zimmer.

Design News: In view of this perspective, what key issues face engineers today in terms of product design and material selection?

Zimmer: Cost is still an important issue, but the primary up-front consideration is the cost-performance ratio. Products today are often more complicated compared to the past. Many are niche products in applications where they are expected to perform at extremely high levels. Environmental impact is also an issue.

Today's design engineer has to consider the total life span of a product from development through disposal, and design with that in mind. In addition, ease of manufacture is increasingly important. Making a product efficiently and minimizing the number of steps required are keys to profitability. For example, automotive bumpers used to be molded, then painted to a high-resolution finish. Today, plastic bumpers can be injection molded in color, eliminating the time and expense of an added step to paint them.

Q: What new trends in material development will influence the way designers specify a material?

A: Materials are now being customized to suit an application's performance criteria. Essentially, all the "easy" applications utilizing basic polymer compounds have been addressed. To meet the high-performance requirements demanded today, polymers will be increasingly tailored to offer specific characteristics to exact criteria. Engineers don't have to settle for "close enough." With polymer performance tailoring, they can demand, and get, precisely what they need. Additionally, advances in alloying, where two or more polymers are combined, will also provide a greater depth of performance properties. This opens up a new avenue of possibilities.

Q: Does the trend toward concurrent engineering effect material specification?

A: Yes, it certainly does. The concept of concurrent engineering and teamwork is critical to being first-to-market, which in today's competitive arena can mean the difference between success and failure. The design engineer must be a jack-of-all-trades, leading a team composed of design, manufacturing, purchasing, and suppliers, to get the job done. Material selection is part of that process, and the engineer has to know more about the available options, and be able to direct the team accordingly. Involving suppliers can help make this a more informed decision.

Q: What applications or industries will be most affected by these issues?

A: All industries will be affected, both by developments in material selection and concurrent engineering. Cutting-edge development of medical products, automotive components, even consumer goods, rely on the right material for the right performance, so it is a critical issue.

Q: Why do engineers increasingly need high-performance materials such as thermoplastic polyurethanes (TPUs)?

A: The less challenging applications for plastics have already been fulfilled with low-cost, low-performance polymers. However, the high-performance expectations for many of today's new products require advanced materials that add greater value and answer higher expectations.

Thus, the market's demand for improved value and material performance, combined with cost-effective manufacturing techniques, are driving material selection today. Advanced thermoplastics, such as TPUs, are answering the call. They are lightweight, recyclable, adaptable, and provide the performance characteristics that engineers need.

Q: What new developments can design engineers expect in TPUs over the next few years?

A: New developments will include more breathable materials, less permeable materials, softer durometers, enhanced flame retardant properties, and alloying. Improved processability, as resin suppliers and compounders continue to perfect and adapt their recipes, will offer further benefits.

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