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I’ve been working for over 30 years as a metals and materials engineer. My engineering career started as a process engineer in an integrated chip factory and then I moved on to a product engineering group where I helped with product design, supplier evaluation, reliability testing, writing materials specifications, and failure analysis and root cause analysis. I worked with design, manufacturing, testing, and quality engineers.
Through all this I saw firsthand the impact of metals engineering (actually, materials engineering in general) on manufacturing cost, quality, and throughput and product cost, performance, and reliability.
However, most engineers think about metals engineering only for failure analysis. They don’t think about it for other aspects of product design and manufacturing. Many companies don’t have a metallurgist on staff. While these companies may still produce good products, they are missing opportunities to be more profitable, more innovative, and more productive.
The rest of this article discusses how metals engineering fits in to help make better, lower-cost products, while improving productivity and reducing stress.
Metals engineering is applied to …
Design lower-cost components. Using lower-cost metals for components and selecting metals that are not a hassle to use to fabricate components are important for reducing component costs. Design for Manufacturability is critical for keeping costs down and making it easier for suppliers to supply components to meet production schedules. Not all metals are easy to work with for any given fabrication process. Selecting metals that are not a hassle to work with will help reduce component costs.
Meet product development schedules. Developing component and assembly designs that are not a hassle to produce, passing product testing the first time, and selecting capable suppliers are critical factors for meeting development and production. So, selecting low-cost materials that can meet performance and reliability requirements is important. So is verifying the reliability of materials used in critical components prior to product-level testing. And, so is evaluating materials from prospective suppliers to verify their ability to consistently provide materials and custom components that meet requirements.
Innovate – design and manufacturing. Innovations that provide a competitive advantage enable product performance or reliability improvements, product cost reduction, increased manufacturing quality and throughput, and manufacturing cost reduction. Using different metals or coatings in components, using different processes to fabricate components, using different materials to join components, developing manufacturing processes that consistently result in the desired properties and level of defects of components and joints being made are all ways to innovate to make better, lower cost products.
Improve manufacturing quality. Understanding the effects of input materials (e.g. stock metal, solder paste, gases, and adhesives) and process parameters on the materials of the items being produced is critical for developing high quality manufacturing and assembly lines. Manufacturing and assembly processes are used to shape and modify materials to form components and joints. It only makes sense that characterizing, understanding, and controlling the materials and processes used is needed to improve quality.
Quickly determine the root cause of product failures, manufacturing quality problems, and broken production equipment. When a failure or quality problem occurs, a root cause analysis must be performed to identify root cause and identify corrective actions to prevent the failure/problem from reoccurring. The first step of a root cause analysis is metallurgical failure analysis of the failed/problem item. Metallurgical evaluation of the item enables determination of failure mode and mechanism and metallurgical deficiencies. With this information it’s possible to identify where to focus attention for the root cause. Without the information, people are just guessing at the root cause and problems linger, while customers are frustrated or manufacturing lines have reduced throughput.
Be more productive. Many situations require metals engineering expertise. But, many companies that use metals in their products don’t have metallurgists on staff. So, engineers without metallurgy and metals engineering expertise try to address metals-related decisions and problems, but with limited training and experience. The result is spending more time than necessary dealing with decisions and problems and lingering problems.
Recognizing when metallurgy and metals engineering expertise is needed is important for making the improvements discussed above. One clue that you might need metallurgy training or help - you’re spinning your wheels. If that’s the case, check out our courses, videos, webinars, and consulting options.
Also, watch the video above and listen to this Metals Conversations podcast episode on the same topic. Future articles, videos, and podcasts will provide more details and examples for the specific areas where metals engineering is important. Read, watch, and listen to them to learn how to apply metals engineering to make better, lower-cost products with less stress and fewer hassles.
Industrial Metallurgists, LLC
Providing metals engineering expertise for failure analysis and forensic investigations of metal components and products.