Why Metals Engineering is Overlooked During Product Design


Our previous article (October 2020) discussed the role of metals engineering for component design and that metals engineering is often overlooked. The results are often sub-optimum – components that fail to meet performance and reliability requirements, components that are more expensive than necessary, and components that are difficult to fabricate. This article explains what metals engineering is and why it is overlooked.

Metals engineering

Metals engineering involves applying the science of metals to engineering decisions for product design and manufacturing – component design, supplier evaluation, product failures, and quality problems. The science of metals is concerned with how the properties of metals are influenced by metal composition, the microscopic structures (microstructure) in metals, and the processes used to form metals and fabricate components. Understanding metal microscopic structures and how they are influenced by alloy composition and manufacturing processes, such as cold working and heat treating, is critical for being able to engineer metals. Just because the microscopic structures can’t be seen with the naked eye doesn’t mean they can be ignored.

Understanding the science of metals makes it possible to engineer the metals used in components – tune the metal’s composition and microstructure – to obtain the properties needed for a specific application. The properties include not just mechanical and electrical properties, but also properties related to reliability, ease of fabrication, and ease of joining.

Why metals engineering is overlooked

Most design engineers have little familiarity with the science of metals and how metals can be engineered. It is not a matter of ability – they are good engineers. But they are not metals experts. Most had just one college metallurgy course and their work focus is on mechanical design – component form. So, they don’t think to consider metals engineering as an approach to optimize a component’s design for performance, reliability, cost, and ease of fabrication. This is a common mindset throughout many engineering organizations.

What design engineers do and the results

So, engineers try to use the alloys used in previous products, without questioning whether other alloys will yield better results. Or they rely on intuition and rote experience to select an alloy, try to find information on the internet (good luck!), or ask component suppliers for help (usually they also rely on rote experience). These approaches to design decisions often lead to the problems mentioned in the previous article – failed product tests, high component costs, and supplier quality problems.

Steps to better designs

Design engineers don’t have to become metallurgists. What they can do is become more knowledgeable about metallurgy fundamentals and metals engineering considerations, so they have a better appreciation for when to get a metallurgical engineer involved in component design. The benefits will be fewer unplanned problems, lower costs, more confidence in engineering decisions, and more elegant engineering solutions.

We offer metallurgy training and 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

  • "A group of us took several courses (Principles of Metallurgy, Metallurgy of Steel, Corrosion of Metals) to become more knowledgeable about the science of metals to avoid problems. For me, the biggest impact of the training was on working with suppliers. I feel more confident asking questions and I now know the suppliers which know their stuff and which ones don’t. And it was great being able to get the training when it was convenient for me."

    Sam Bloodgood, VP Process Improvement, Hydraforce, Inc.
  • "I oversee several operations, including steel heat treating and laser welding. However, my background was in the construction materials industry. Principles of Metallurgy gave me the knowledge to have meaningful discussions with my engineers and be able to ask them better questions."

    Tom Parkman, Plant Manager, Simonds International.
  • “Principles of Metallurgy exceeded my expectations. The content was straightforward enough not to be burdensome, yet deep enough to provide a practical review of fundamental principles. I recommend this course to any engineer or technical person who has been out of school and working in industry for several years, but not necessarily having been focused on metallurgy.”

    Andy Jacobs, Staff Engineer, DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc.
  • “The Principles of Metallurgy course is broke up into convenient length modules that can be fit into the busiest schedule. The course is a good review for engineers who had a materials class ten or more years ago.”

    Paul Flury B/E Aerospace
  • “This is an excellent course (Metallurgy of Steel Heat Treating) for learning basic heat treating practices. The course introduces and covers a broad range of processes. I would recommend it for anyone in the steel business.”

    Jim Marks, Magellan Corporation
  • “This course has given me more confidence in my job and given me a better understanding of some of the heat treatments used in the business.”

    Mark Winter, Abbey Forged Products

Have more questions? Email mpfeifer@imetllc.com or call 847.528.3467

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