Product design - A different perspective - Industrial Metallurgists

Product design - A different perspective

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Product design - A different perspective


Metal Conversations podcast Episode 10: A different perspective for seeing products

I’d like to discuss my perspective on products. To me, any product is an assembly of materials that have been manipulated, modified, and formed into components that are brought together to make a product. This applies to toys, bicycles, kitchen appliances, medical devices, hand tools, structures like buildings and bridges, and so on. Materials include metals, polymers, ceramics, textiles, and other materials.

For example, consider a bicycle’s crank assembly. The crank assembly is composed of different components, each made of different materials that have been manipulated, modified, and shaped. Ideally, each component has the characteristics that enable the crank assembly to perform as required over the life of the bicycle. This means each component must meet certain performance and reliability requirements, ideally at low cost.

Form and materials

The performance, reliability, and cost of any component depend on component form and component materials. Both can be engineered. Engineering component form involves selecting component shape, dimensions, and features. Considering just metals, engineering component materials involved selecting the alloy, mill processing (hot-rolled, cold-rolled, …), heat treatment, and coating.

Actively engineering both component form and materials results in making trade-offs between the two to optimize component performance, reliability, and cost. This includes making form and materials decisions that enable components to be fabricated without hassles, helping to keep costs down and quality good.

Bolt example

For example, consider a bolt used to hold a table to the floor and a bolt for a bridge. These applications have different requirements for strength and corrosion resistance. The table bolt strength requirements are modest, and it will not be exposed to corrosive conditions. So, a medium side bolt made of moderate strength steel that can be easily shaped into a bolt is OK.

A bridge needs corrosion resistant bolts that can support higher loads. Supporting higher loads can be achieved by using larger bolts and/or using a higher strength metal compared to the table bolt. There is an optimum size and metal strength that will enable meeting the load requirements. If the bolt must be heat treated to get the desired strength, then an alloy capable of being easily formed into a bolt and then being heat treated must be selected. Meeting the corrosion resistance requirements will require either selecting a corrosion resistant alloy that has the required strength (and ease of fabrication) or coating the bolt after fabrication.

Need help selecting materials for a component? CLICK HERE for help

Give form and materials equal standing

For both applications, seeing the bolts as materials that are manipulated, modified, and shaped helps give equal weight to form and materials, encouraging trade-offs to find the optimum size and materials.

This approach can be applied for any component, improving the probability of developing component designs that enable successful products.  Sometimes, it results in innovative solutions for performance or reliability improvements or for reducing cost to provide a competitive advantage.

So, that's my perspective on products and their materials. What’s yours?

Want to hear more?

Here's a Metals Conversations podcast episode on engineering component form and materials.

Subscribe to the Metal Conversations podcast series on Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Pocket Casts, Overcast, Castbox, and Stitcher.


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