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Why Materials Matter

Written by Christopher Bray on 04-07-2020 in Colors, Materials, and Finishes.

It was a long year of development with your team. It had taken 6 months of hard work to develop the concept, finalize the design, get Marketing’s approval, and then off to product testing! Finally!

The phone call you receive from the lab was NOT what you wanted to hear. You’re already past the deadline to ramp up production and the last thing you need is a major glitch in product performance. The lab explains the “cracking” issue...see the product is supposed to survive 500 cycles but the new design is not making it past 50. Panic sets in as the lab explains the root cause is the material.

After 2 months of back and forth with Marketing on the desired colors for the product, everyone agreed to 6 colors that were sure to be a hit with your top customers. But the problem is the white color that was chosen is failing and by a long shot. The problem? Color is a contaminant. For every pellet of color you add to the material, the more the mechanical properties of the material degrade. And white is the worst. The TiO2 that had to be added to the white to get to just the right shade was a lot, but you had no idea it would have the negative effect on product performance the lab just described to you.

Worse yet, your boss just called for a meeting for an update on when production will be ramping up. UH OH!

If you’ve ever been in this situation you understand the stress involved...

A crucial part of the design process HAS to take materials and their performance characteristics in account. After seeing clients go through this these types of situations, I have 3 pieces of advice.

First, when in the initial stages of the design, take the appropriate amount of time to brainstorm material selections and assign someone the task of reaching out to material suppliers to make sure you understand the performance limitations. The supplier needs to know performance criteria like impact, temperature ranges, chemical resistance, scratch resistance and colors just to name a few. Make sure they understand how you intend to test the product. Waiting until late in the design to choose materials is a costly mistake that can cause a missed launch.

Second, make sure you spend adequate time selecting the right supplier that’s going to be responsible for processing the material. In the case of injection molding, not all molders are the same. Some focus on certain markets while others focus on running the same types of materials. This dictates what types of equipment they have. Make sure they have experience and the right equipment for your material. Yes, price will be a factor but you will lose more money with a supplier that can’t mold the material to meet the performance expectations of the material.

Third, if you are hiring an outside design firm to design the product for you, make sure they have adequate expertise in materials and manufacturing. Our company, SPEED Product Development focuses just as much time on the engineering and manufacturing of the product as we do the design itself.

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