X is for… solving for X – choosing the right material

Senior Consultant, Chris Mallinson, explores the complex challenges of material suitability and selection.

Senior Consultant, Chris Mallinson, explores the complex challenges of material suitability and selection.

X has a long and honourable history as a signifier of something unknown, a mystery to be solved... In the case of materials selection, there are often many possible answers that are all equally acceptable in terms of meeting performance requirements.

Sometimes the choice made results in a component that not only lasts the expected lifetime but, potentially, multiple lifetimes. Where there is an opportunity to reuse a part, this might be a good thing, but it can also be a sign of significant over-engineering and consequently a greater cost to the manufacturer and hence the customer. Many factors affect the suitability of a material for a specific use. Finding the right balance between these factors presents an interesting challenge.

Wanting to make a part out of space age alloys that should last hundreds of years is all well and good but if those alloys come at great cost and are extremely difficult to machine into the desired shape their choice should be reconsidered.

Factors that may affect material selection include cost, repairability, availability, design life, corrosion performance, and machinability. At Frazer-Nash, we work with our clients to find the main driving force for why a particular material performance may be needed. We use our experience to review any currently selected materials, and can recommend suitable alternatives materials.

Where multiple solutions exist, we develop a scoring matrix, to enable a down selection of materials against the client’s evaluation criteria. Sometimes, however, a more complex solution may be needed. A single material may not meet the clients’ hard requirements. In these situations, we draw upon operational experience from several industries to suggest changes to policy and process that may be able to mitigate the reduced performance of a material. This could include inspections, use of coatings, operational changes, or modifications to design.

Just like a complex mathematical equation, solving for X in materials’ selection requires an understanding of the variables involved.

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