Well-designed components are essential to every product’s success. Whether a component meets its performance and reliability requirements and is low-cost to manufacture depends on two things of equal importance:

Both mechanical form and metals can be engineered. Unfortunately, engineering a component’s metals is overlooked at many companies, leading to problems such as component costs over-budget, product launch delays, and supplier quality problems. Additionally, opportunities for innovation are missed.

Engineering component form and metal enables trade-offs for design optimization – meeting component performance and reliability at low total cost. Sometimes, selecting a more expensive alloy enables using less expensive fabrication processes, resulting in lower total cost.

Optimizing designs also includes thinking about ease of component fabrication. For any fabrication process, some alloys are easier to fabricate into components than others. Designing for ease of fabrication reduces costs and improves the supply base. Components that are difficult to fabricate result in high quotes from suppliers who want to be compensated for expected problems and the extra care required.

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Problems with the current approach

Focusing on engineering a component’s form and overlooking metals engineering leads to decision making without all the pertinent information and missing opportunities to improve designs. The result is sub-optimum results - components that fail to meet performance and reliability requirements, are more expensive than necessary, and are difficult to fabricate.

Also, overlooking metals engineering leads to inefficient problem solving for product failures and quality problems. The result is delayed and panicked product launches and lingering quality problems.

Metals engineering presents a transformative opportunity

Incorporating metals engineering is a transformative opportunity to make better, lower-cost products and increase innovation. It adds an important perspective to enable better-informed, faster decisions for product design, supplier evaluation, and solving quality problems. Also, it opens up new avenues of product design for better functionality or capability.

This may sound too good to be true, but it‘s not, and it isn’t novel. Some companies have been actively applying metals engineering for years. The only mystery is why so many manufacturers overlook the benefits it can provide, something I will discuss next month.

We help companies with metals engineering to design components and perform failure analysis for quality problems and component failures. Call or email if you would like to discuss a project. 847.528.3467 mike@imetllc.com

Want to learn metals engineering considerations for component design and alloy selection? See our metallurgy courses page.

Rockwell and Brinell hardness tests are common metal characterization methods used to determine whether metal stock or a metal component has the required properties. The reason for this is that these tests are simple and quick to perform, in addition to being inexpensive. However, while these tests do provide useful information, there is a danger to the common practice of specifying only hardness and alloy composition on component design drawings.

There are circumstances where a metal can meet the composition and hardness requirements, and still be unsuitable for use in the intended application. This can occur when the metal microstructure is deficient in a way that is undetectable by Rockwell or Brinell hardness testing.

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ferriteatgbsConsider the microstructure of a steel component. The microstructure consisted of martensite, with ferrite on what were austenite grain boundaries (arrows) before the austenite transformed to martensite. This was the result of improper quenching during heat treatment. The sample had a hardness of Rockwell C 38. However, the ferrite on the prior austenite grains compromised the mechanical properties of the metal by allowing a fracture path through the relatively soft ferrite. Without specifying that the microstructure should be completely martensitic, the component designer risked using components that met the spec, but were potentially unreliable.

Other examples where it is possible to have a Rockwell or Brinell hardness value that meets specification, but still have a component that is unreliable or unacceptable are:

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The main thing to take away from this discussion is that specifying composition and hardness is often not enough. In many cases, it is important to specify the microstructure of stock metal or a component to improve the likelihood of consistently getting the desired metal properties. The importance of this increases as the expected component performance and reliability increases. Other analyses, such as tensile testing may also be required.

More information about the effects of microstructure on properties and the effects of processing on microstructure is in our Principles of Metallurgy, Metallurgy of Steel Heating, and Corrosion of Metals courses. There are also many books that discuss the relationship between processing, microstructure, and properties.

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This is the second article in a series of posts on the materials selection process. The first article gave an overview of the entire process for selecting a material to use for a component or a joint between components. This article discusses the first step of the process - identify the design requirements for the component or joint. As a reminder, here are the steps for the materials selection process:

  1. Identify the design requirements
  2. Identify the materials selection criteria.
  3. Identify candidate materials.
  4. Evaluate candidate materials.
  5. Select materials.

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The design requirements

Here is a list of the categories of the requirements to consider when selecting a material for a component or a joint between components:

  1. Performance requirementsSelection criteria
  2. Reliability requirements
  3. Size, shape, and mass requirements
  4. Cost requirements
  5. Manufacturing requirements
  6. Industry standards
  7. Government regulations
  8. Intellectual property requirements
  9. Sustainability requirements

Below is an explanation of each category of requirements

Performance Requirements
The performance requirements describe the attributes that the component or joint must have to function as required. The attributes can be described in terms of mechanical, electromagnetic, thermal, optical, physical, chemical, electrochemical, and cosmetic properties.

Reliability Requirements
The reliability of a component or joint refers to its ability to function as required over a specific use period when exposed to a specific set of use conditions. A component or joint fails once the material degrades to the point where the component or joint no longer performs as required. The reliability requirements describe the use conditions to which the materials will be exposed and the expected response of the materials to the use conditions. Examples of use conditions are exposure to high temperatures, salt water (corrosion), and vibration.

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Size, shape, and mass requirements
The size, shape, and mass requirements for a component or joint will have a huge influence on the materials that can be used. Consider a component that must carry five amperes of current without heating up by more than 15o C above the ambient temperature. The electrical conductivity for a component with a 1 mm diameter must be about four times greater than the electrical conductivity for a component that can be 2 mm in diameter. A bicycle frame that must weight 10 pounds must have frame tubes made of a lower density material compared to a 20 pound frame. For a component that must support 200 pounds, the yield stress for the material in a component that must be 0.20 inches diameter must be much greater compared to the material in a component that can be 0.50 inches in diameter.

Cost requirements
The cost to form a component or joint or purchase a component depends on 1) the materials that comprise a component or joint, 2) the manufacturing processes used to form a component or joint, 3) whether a component is custom made or purchased “off-the-shelf supplier”, 4) the quantity of materials or components being purchased and 5) quality problems associated with a material or component. If you want to reduce costs, consider what will be required from the materials engineering perspective to make manufacturing process changes that address items 2 and 5.

Manufacturing requirements
Companies may require that specific processes be used for fabricating components and building assemblies or sub-assemblies. Perhaps a company has internal manufacturing capabilities that must be used or a company is familiar and comfortable with component or joints fabricated using a familiar manufacturing process.

Restrictions on the processes that can be used to build a product will restrict the materials that can be used to make components because the materials must be compatible with the processes and other materials used to make the product. For example, components to be joined using a specific welding, brazing, or soldering process must be made of materials that enable good joints to be formed using the specific joining process. This may exclude off-the-shelf components from one or more suppliers because their components are made of materials that are incompatible with the process. For a custom component, the restriction may require the use of certain materials in order to form a good joint.

Want to learn about metals engineering considerations for component design? See our metallurgy courses page for training.

Restricting the manufacturing process to only familiar ones will restrict the options of materials that can be used to form a component or joint since many manufacturing processes are limited to processing certain materials. In some respects manufacturing constraints are acceptable, and may in fact be desirable, since the use of familiar processes and materials reduces the risk associated with a change or new product. However, in cases when a new product is significantly different than older products, the constraints of using specific manufacturing processes may seem to be a burden.

Industry standards
There are industry standards concerned with the performance and reliability of components and joints. In some cases, a specific standard will discuss component and joint requirements. For component specific standards, the standards discuss

Government regulations
Government regulations regarding the materials used in a product are typically related to requirements on the materials from which components and joints can and cannot be made. The requirements address the materials that can or cannot be used in a component or joint and the expected quality and reliability of the materials for specific applications. Every country has its own set of regulations.

Intellectual property requirements
There are many patents regarding the design and manufacture of component or joints. If a patent is found that is applicable to the component or joint being selected or designed, then the design team has to decide whether to license the patent or engineer the component or joint order to avoid conflict with the patent.

Sustainability requirements
These requirements restrict the materials that can be used in components and joints to materials that can be re-used or recycled. The requirements might also restrict the manufacturing processes than can be used to form components and joints to processes that do not harm the environment and do not use chemicals and materials that are manufactured using environmentally unfriendly processes. The sustainability requirements for a product become the sustainability requirements for its components and joints.

Time and money; Focus and discipline

This list of different types of requirements to consider might seem long. It might take a bit of time to come up with a complete description of all the requirements for your next project. However, it will speed up the process of evaluating materials and suppliers that are identified based on the complete set of requirements. Consider the time and money associated with evaluating materials and suppliers that are found to be unsuitable.

It takes a bit of focus and discipline to implement this process, but the rewards of fewer problems and faster implementation or design are well worth it.

There are several situations during the life cycle of a product when a design team selects a material to use for a component or a joint between components - new product development, cost reduction, improve product performance and reliability, and improve manufacturing or assembly yields. Regardless of the situation, the goals are the same – find the lowest cost material that enables the product’s performance and reliability. There are several steps to the material selection process. This article provides an overview of this process.

materials selectionThe performance, reliability, and cost of any product depends on the performance, reliability, and cost of its components and the joints between components. And the performance, reliability, and cost of components and joints depend on two things: 1) their physical construction and 2) the materials of which they are made. Physical construction refers to shape and dimensions. Examples of different physical constructions are shown in the figure for two different size shafts and two different types of weld joints.

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Materials selected impact product success

So, the materials used in a product have a huge impact on the product’s success. Select materials with properties that don’t enable meeting the product’s performance or reliability requirements and be prepared to have poor sales or many returns. Select materials that are more expensive than necessary or are difficult to work with during manufacturing and assembly and be prepared to endure lower than expected profits.

Materials selection process

These problems can be avoided by adopting a rigorous approach to the materials selection process, with an eye on selecting materials that optimize product performance reliability and cost. The materials selection process for a component or joint between components involves these steps:

  1. Identify the design requirements
  2. Identify the materials selection criteria.
  3. Identify candidate materials.
  4. Evaluate candidate materials.
  5. Select materials.

While each step might seem obvious, there are many organizations that do not have the structure in place to follow each step. Consequently, they end up selecting sub-optimum materials. The remainder of this article gives a brief overview of each step of the materials selection process. Future articles will provide more details about each step of the process.

Step 1: Identify the design requirements
The design requirements include the following items:

Identifying as many of the requirements as possible is critical for increasing the likelihood of learning whether potential materials exist. For many products, some of these requirements are not applicable, making the information gathering process easier. Regardless, as the number of requirements increases, the chance of finding a set of potential materials decreases.

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Step 2: Identify materials selection criteria
The materials selection criteria are specific materials properties derived from the requirements identified during Step 1. For example, for a component that must support a specific load, the minimum yield stress that is required for the component’s material can be determined. This will be one of the material selection criteria.

Step 3: Identify candidate materials
Use the materials selection criteria to rule out materials that will not satisfy all the materials selection criteria. When evaluating whether a material might be appropriate for the application, be sure to consider the materials’ range of values for the properties of interest. Do not rely upon nominal properties values.

Step 4: Evaluate candidate materials
There may be candidate materials for which there insufficient data available to indicate whether the materials satisfy certain selection criteria. These materials will have to be analyzed and tested to determine whether they do meet the selection criteria.

Want to learn more about metals engineering and component design? See our metallurgy courses page for training options.

Step 5: Select materials
Select the materials that satisfy all the materials selection criteria at the lowest cost. Remember, cost includes the cost of the material and the cost to fabricate a component or form a joint between components.

Detailed information about the materials selection process is in my textbook Materials Enables Designs: A Materials Engineering Perspective to Product Design and Manufacturing.

Successful product design and manufacturing requires the consideration of several perspectives including mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, materials engineering, manufacturing, sourcing, and supplier quality. This article discusses the materials engineering perspective for product design and manufacturing.  It is an abbreviated version of the free webinar Leveraging Metals Engineering

PropertiesDiagramMaterials Science and Engineering
Materials science is concerned with understanding the relationship between a material’s composition, microstructure, and properties and the effects of manufacturing processes and composition on a material’s microstructure. Materials engineering involves applying materials science knowledge to the engineering of products and manufacturing processes.

A collection of materials
An engineered product is a collection of materials in the shapes of components and weld, solder, or adhesive joints. In fact, up to 70% of the cost to make a product is due to its materials. Therefore, it makes sense that getting the materials right will have a big impact on a product’s success. However, many organizations have difficulties getting the materials right, and they end up facing common problems such as:

Many of these problems can be avoided by applying the materials engineering perspective to product design and manufacturing decisions.

Need metallurgy expert help designing a component? We can help with alloy, coating, and process selection. See our metallurgy consulting page.

ScissorsMaterials, not just components
What do you see here? A pair of scissors? Sharp metal blades and plastic handles? As a materials engineer, here's what I see:

Furthermore, people will not buy the scissors or it will cost too much to manufacture if the blade or handle materials do not meet these requirements. The same concept applies to any product.

Meeting product performance, reliability, and cost requirements
PyramidProduct performance, reliability, and cost depends on component and joint performance, reliability, and cost, which depends on component and joint mechanical construction and the materials used for a component or joint. Mechanical construction refers to the shape, dimensions, and features of a component or joint.

Focusing on the materials used for components and joints, designing and manufacturing a successful product requires two things:

  1. Selecting materials that satisfy component and joint performance, reliability, and cost requirements.
  2. Implementing control measures that ensure the properties of materials that make up components and joints consistently meet specifications.

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Whether a product meets all its performance, reliability, and cost requirements depends on whether a design team selects the appropriate materials. The process of selecting materials is discussed in the Materials Selection lesson of the series.

Controlling the variation of the properties of the materials used in a product requires

Want to improve your metallurgy and metals engineering knowledge? See our metallurgy courses page for training options.

Materials Enabled Designs
In conclusion, including the materials engineering perspective as part of product design and manufacturing enables selection of materials that have been optimized to meet performance, reliability, and cost requirements and control over the variation of the composition, microstructure, and properties of the materials so that they consistently meet their specifications. When both of these happen, the likelihood of product success is greatly improved.

Project
Select the material to use for a 1/2-inch diameter, six foot long drive shaft used to run a power tool attached to one end of a pole assembly. The shaft cross-section is shown below.

Description
The main requirements for the shaft material were:

Based on these requirements, only aluminum alloys were considered.  Steel alloys were not considered because of their weight.  Copper alloys were not considered because of their weight and cost.  Though plastics were available that met the yield strength requirement, there was concern about the ability to obtain uniform properties in the small shaft splines.

Need metallurgy expert help designing a component? We help with alloy, coating, and process selection. See our metallurgy consulting page.

The most cost effective option to consider was extruded 6061 aluminum in a T6 temper condition. The Aluminum Association specification for 6061-T6 requires a minimum yield strength of 35 ksi.  6061 is a commonly extruded alloy that is less expensive to purchase and easy to extrude compared to other aluminum alloys that meet the strength requirement.

Material Evaluation Process
Part of selecting a material to use for a component involves the following steps:

Evaluating Prototypes
Prototype evaluation involved machining 6061-T6 rod stock into shaft samples.  Samples were tested using accelerated test conditions to simulate 3,500 hours use.  Two other aluminum alloys that had higher yield strength than 6061-T6 were also evaluated, just in case testing indicated that options were required.  The testing revealed that minor changes in the shaft cross-section dimensions were required to prevent failure before 3,500 hours.  Also, it was determined that 6061-T6 was suitable.  Since tooling for the shaft had not begun, the dimension changes were easy to make.

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Supplier Evaluation
Evaluating suppliers did not require obtaining samples of the shaft, which was a good thing because the tooling needed to make the shaft would not have been ready until later in the development cycle.  Production samples of extruded 6061-T6 components that were similar to the shaft were obtained from two extrusion companies and were evaluated to see whether they met the composition and strength requirements for 6061-T6.  Metallographic examination of one sample from each supplier  was also performed to verify that the microstructure was correct.

One company's samples were good.  The samples from the other company had strength slightly less than the requirement and a microstructure that was sub-optimum.  It was determined that the second company did not have the proper quality processes in place to ensure that shafts would have consistently met the strength requirement.  So, the company whose components did meet the strength requirement was selected as the product supplier of the shafts.

Later, when tooling for making the shaft was ready, samples were made and evaluated composition, strength, and microstructure.  Based on the results, some minor modifications were made to the extrusion process to get the desired microstucture and strength.

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Conclusions
Performing the prototype and supplier evaluations discussed here revealed issues early in the product development cycle.  This enabled decisions that were easily implemented, and ensured that the development project stayed on schedule.

One approach to cost reduction is to re-engineer products to use less expensive materials or reduced quantities of higher priced materials.  This approach can have a significant impact on a product’s costs, since the materials used in a product account for a large part of its total cost.

With appropriate risk assessment and design verification, it is possible to make the desired product changes and preserve the required performance and reliability.  In fact, sometimes a product’s performance and reliability is also improved, providing an additional competitive advantage.

Need metallurgy expert help designing a component? We help with alloy, coating, and process selection. See our metallurgy consulting page.

The materials engineering approach discussed here is applicable to all types of products, all types of materials (metals, plastics, ceramics, composites, coatings, and adhesives) both common and uncommon materials, and components and materials used to make joints between components.  The trick is to identify the products, components, and materials that offer the greatest opportunity for cost reduction in the shortest period of time.

This article provides ideas and examples for re-engineering the materials used in products.

Opportunities for cost reduction

The following situations offer opportunities for cost reduction through materials re-engineering:

Each of these situations is discussed below.

Over-Designed Products

In some instances, products may be over-engineered using materials that provide way more performance and reliability than necessary.  Such over-engineering can add significantly to the bill of materials cost and to direct labor cost.

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Consider the case where steel alloy 4142 was specified, but a 1045 steel would have sufficed.  The 4142 steel was selected when the material was not too expensive, and the design team could afford to use a material that provided way more reliability than needed for the product.  How about the situation where gold plating is used, but tin plating would be sufficient for the desired performance and reliability.  Or the component made of polycarbonate, but could have been made of hi impact polystyrene.

In some designs, the material used in a component is the correct choice but the physical dimensions of the component are overkill, resulting in the use of more of the material than is necessary to meet the performance and reliability targets.

Product over-design is a fairly typical situation in older products that were designed when there was less customer price pressure and manufacturers could afford to have more cost in their products.  It also occurs in new products when design engineers use the same materials repeatedly, without considering other options of materials that might be suitable.

In all these cases re-engineering can be a fairly straight-forward process that starts with a review of the product performance and reliability requirements and identifying the options of materials that can be used.

Consolidation of Materials

Another opportunity for realizing significant cost reduction is the economy of scale realized through the consolidation of materials used across product lines.  Do your different products use common components made from different materials?  If so, this may offer an opportunity to use the same materials in the different components.  This enables cost-reduction through volume discounts, and the need to carry less inventory of a particular material or type of component.  In some cases, consolidating materials also leads to improvements in manufacturing yields by selecting the materials that are easiest to work with.

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For example, a company was using three different grades of polycarbonate for similar types of components.  The company changed to a single grade of polycarbonate for all components and got a price reduction of 10% per pound of plastic resin.  Furthermore, of the three resins, the one that was selected was the easiest to use during injection molding process.  Its use led to a 7% increase in manufacturing yields.

Or consider a large manufacture that used three different solder pastes to build electronics assemblies.  Changing to a single, newer solder paste resulted in 25% reduction in material cost and improvements in manufacturing quality.

Reducing Manufacturing Costs

Manufacturing costs can be reduced by using materials that enable higher yields or higher throughput.  Poor yields are often due to using materials that were selected with only performance and reliability in mind, and not optimized for manufacturability.  Or, the materials may be inherently suitable, but there is too much variation in their properties because the supplier has poor process control.  In either case, inadequate materials make it difficult to make components and form joints that consistently meet their design requirements.  In some cases, this shows up as poor yields.  In others, production line throughput is reduced because the process requires extra attention.

Revisiting Existing Designs

It is beneficial to hold periodic design reviews to determine if there are opportunities to revisit previous materials selection decisions.  This approach is applicable to both long-standing products and designs that are still under consideration.

The design review approach provides an opportunity to consider taking advantage of materials that were not initially available when the product design was contemplated.  It also allows the manufacturing team to take advantage of new, improved methods for processing and joining materials.

The goal of the design review is to look for significant opportunities to reduce bill of material costs, reduce labor content, reduce overall process time, and reduce yield loss.  Addressing any of these issues involves the methods already discussed, namely -

As mentioned earlier, re-engineering is a straightforward process that starts with a review of the product design requirements and identifying the options of materials that can be used.

Why Isn’t Everyone Doing This?

There are a few reasons why companies do not look to re-engineering of materials in their products for cost reduction.  First, engineers often do not see materials as an aspect of the design for optimization.  Typically, they first look to modify the mechanical or electrical aspects of a product.

Second, engineers often believe that changing materials will turn into a big research project that will take a long time to complete.  However, this is typically not the case if the proper considerations are made when evaluating and implementing the materials.

The final reason is that engineers may not know of all the options of materials to consider, especially when trying to optimize all of the performance, reliability, cost, and manufacturability requirements.

Many Opportunities

There are ample opportunities in most product designs to achieve significant cost reduction if one knows where to look and what questions to ask.   These techniques are applicable to simple and complex products and to common and high-tech materials.  In many cases it is possible to find materials that not only reduce costs, but also improve product performance and reliability.

When designing products engineers select metals that have specific properties.  What many engineers don't realize is that when they select a metal with certain properties that they are selecting a composition and a microstructure.  This is because the properties of any metal, and in fact any material, depend on two fundamental factors: composition and microstructure.

For metals, composition refers to the elements present in a metal and their relative amounts.  For example, a 1060 carbon steel contains iron, 0.55 to 0.65% carbon, and 0.60 to 0.90% manganese.

Improve your metallurgy and metals engineering knowledge, and design lower-cost components. See our metallurgy courses page for training options.

Microstructure refers to the grains and metallurgical phases within a metal and the shape, size, relative amounts, and locations of the phases.  A metal's microstructure can be observed with a microscope after proper preparation of the metal sample.  Many microstructures can be observed with an optical microscope at magnifications between 25x and 1500x.  Observing microstructure features smaller than about 0.001 mm requires the use of an electron microscope.  The microstructure for the Cu-30% Zn brass shown below consists of grains of alpha brass.  The microstructure for the Sn-37% Pb solder shown below consists of lead particles (dark) in a tin matrix (light).

ColdRolledandAnnealedBrass

Cu-30Zn brass

solder

Sn-37Pb solder

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A metal's microstructure depends on two factors:

For any composition, different microstructures can be formed within a metal depending on the manufacturing process and process parameters used to form the metal.  For example, consider a 1060 steel that has been heat treated two different ways.  The microstructure for the sample shown below consists of pearlite and some ferrite.  The microstructure for the other sample consists of spheroidized cementite in a ferrite matrix.  The differences in the microstructures resulted in different strengths and hardness for the two metals.  The sample with pearlite was stronger and harder than the other sample because pearlite is stronger and harder than spheroidized cementite.

Ferrite (white) and cementite (dark) in steel.

1060 steel: Pearlite and ferrite

Spheroidized cementite_compressed

1060 steel: Spheroidized cementite. Reprinted with permission of ASM International. All rights reserved.

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Understanding the relationship between properties, composition, microstructure, and processing is critical to

These properties include those that are important for ease of manufacturing and those that are important for the performance and reliability of the component being fabricated.  By selecting and controlling the metal composition and microstructure for the components used in a product it is possible to make products that meet their performance, reliability, and cost requirements.

It is important to recognize that metals, or any other type of material, are not a slab of stuff, but instead consist of various microscopic structures that can be manipulated to obtain specific properties.  Engineers that are good at selecting and controlling these microscopic structures increase their chances of making successful products.

More information about the effects of microstructure on properties and the effects of processing on microstructure is in our Principles of Metallurgy, Metallurgy of Steel Heating, and Corrosion of Metals courses. There are also many books that discuss the relationship between processing, microstructure, and properties.

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