What material should you make your product out of?

Choosing the right material has a big impact on your product's cost, durability and perception. But how do you narrow down the list? Find out.
5 minute read
Zohaab Ishrat @zohaab85
Technical Co-pilot
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The material you choose plays a huge role in positioning your product in the marketplace

Every manufacturer, design engineer and product developer is eventually confronted by the same question. What material should you use for the physical development of a product? The question is quite difficult to answer, as there are a lot of critical factors surrounding the parameters involved in choosing the right material that complies with all the product's standards.

Why choose material?

The material may not necessarily be selected to make an entirely new product; it could also be selected for making a component or to make a joint between two or more components. It could also be for substituting another material for cost reduction, to improve the performance or lifecycle of the product or to just improve manufacturing or product yield.

The performance, cost and dependability of a product are proportional to that of the components involved in the making of that product. The performance, cost and dependability of those components rely on two important factors:

  1. The physical construction of those components.
  2. The materials used in the manufacturing of those components.

The physical construction means the physical shape and dimensions of a component or a product. As important as it is, our current focus is on the materials involved in the making those components and products.

Selecting just the right material is the key, regardless of the type or cost of the material.

If you select low-quality material that prevents your product from meeting its performance or dependability/reliability requirements, the product is going to perform poorly which will result in poor sales and reclaims/refunds. This is bad news for any business.

Similarly, if you select a material that's overly expensive or difficult to work with, you can have problems during the manufacturing phase. Not to mention when you have to compensate for the cost of material in the cost of the product, you'll end up with an overly expensive product that could result in decreased sales and reduced profit margins.

Conduct a thorough market analysis

If you're developing a physical product, you should start by analyzing the market for competition. Check out the materials your competitors use, then develop an estimated cost for your product and make up your mind on the quality and price you want for the product.

If you're opting for developing an inexpensive product, the materials you select need to be equally cheap. Likewise, if you're looking to develop an expensive and high-end product, then you can (and should) opt for the material that best befits the standard of your product. Cost estimation is an essential factor to consider before selecting materials.

Selecting the right material

As difficult as it may have sounded thus far, you need to take a rigorous approach to material selection. This means finding materials that optimize product performance, cost and dependability.

The process can be broken down into the following main steps:

Identify the requirements of the design

The first step is to identify the basic requirements of the product. When doing so, consider the following:

  • Thoroughly understand the performance requirements of the product. If your product is meant to perform in rugged environments, the materials selected need to be strong enough to withstand the environmental parameters.
  • Understand the reliability requirements. If the product is meant to last for years, it can’t be made of a material that has a lifespan of months.
  • Consider the size, shape and mass requirements of the product. If the material selected doesn’t comply with any of the stated parameters, you need to rethink the choice of material.
  • Remember the cost requirements. Don’t go for materials that blow out the estimated budget of the product.
  • Keep in mind the industrial standards. There are industrial standards regulated on a federal level that every manufacturer must comply with in their choice of selecting material for a product.
  • Obey government regulations. Under no circumstance should you select a material that's forbidden by the government. If the product is targeted for an international market, know the regulations so your product won't face regulatory barriers in other countries.
  • Don’t forget the trademark and intellectual property requirements. You can have your product sued for the use of materials that have been trademarked by another brand to be exclusively used for their product. If someone has an intellectual claim over a type of material, don’t use it in the manufacturing of your product.
  • Lastly, the sustainability requirements. Don't choose a material you won't be able to sustainably source in the future.

Identify the criteria for material selection

The next step is to identify the criteria for the selection of a specific material. The criteria are derived from the requirements stated in the first step. So if a material is to be selected based upon specific requirements of a component, it can be checked against the points above.

Identify candidate materials

From the previous criteria, we can identify the materials that best fit our requirements. Using this, we can keep ruling out materials that don’t comply with our requirements and narrow it down to just the right materials. Be sure to check the "range of values" of the material in relation to the requirements of our product.

Evaluate the candidate material

A candidate material may not have sufficient data available to justify its use for the development of your product. For that, the material needs to be thoroughly analyzed and tested to see whether it meets the desired criteria.

Select the right material

When you're down to the material that complies with all the requirements of your product and fulfils the selection criteria (keeping the cost in mind), you can choose it to use in production.

Precautionary measures

We're sure by now you have a good understanding of how to select materials that fit your product requirements. Just to be on the safe side, here are a few precautionary notes:

  1. You must clearly understand the critical components of the design of the component or the product. Consider the structural elements that are important for the integrity and performance of the product. Be sure to choose the right materials that will deliver the desired performance.
  2. You must understand the properties of the materials that you wish to use. You may also seek the expertise of a professional who can help you in making the right choice. When you're considering a material, ask for the property sheet pertaining to that material to test it for each stage in the prototyping process.
  3. Work to validate the design of your product. That means to test it yourself. You may not like to, but we suggest you try breaking it. Test it on parameters that you want it to survive. Throw it, twist it, push it, pull it, etc. Try to find its failure point, and then decide if you're comfortable with that failure point. For example, if you have to run your hair dryer prototype over with a truck to destroy it, you've probably chosen a good material.
  4. Try keeping a tab on all your expenses with a Bill of Material (BOM). A BOM is a very important document that can put the engineers, manufacturers and procurers on the same page.

The takeaway from all this is that selecting the right material to build your product is very important, so don't do it hastily. Research properly, conduct experiments and, after all the required criteria for the successful development of the product have been met, go for it.

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