How do you choose materials?

It’s Plastic Free July. Whilst this is a campaign to clear the oceans of plastics which hurt the creatures who live there and to help stop single use for our food packaging ending up in landfill perhaps it’s a good time to think about what materials to use in an industrial setting.

Having said that it’s always an essential part of our thinking process as design engineers.

Every time our engineers approach a design it’s always with the following thoughts in mind:

• What material is best suited for the job?
• What shape, durability, strength and size is needed?
• What manufacturing process will give the best output?

It should be stated these are often fully considered in the manufacturing design stage but even in the concept stage materials are contemplated to help formulate that initial design to present back to you.

There’s so many options today for what material to use; literally thousands of materials exist to select. However our approach to selecting a component is often with a commercial AND practical approach. If it is something standard as opposed to customised that’s better when it comes to things like fastenings. This means you are more likely to be able to source from anywhere or at least from more than one supplier.

Some items need to be bespoke made with materials that have been considered for their performance, as well as availability and cost. In that instance it can be environment or the actual operation that helps with the material selection made. For instance if you have a highly dusty operating area could a moving part need to be enclosed in a metal case? Perhaps you have liquid in your process in which case would plastic components be the best option?

The actual characteristics of materials need to be fully considered too; what’s the shear strength, temperature behaviour, ease of machining or joining techniques? Understanding this is how we as engineers chose the right materials for your project.