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Materials Matter — The Material Selection Process

SCDear Desktop Engineering Reader:

The title “Materials Matter” is something of a word play on the dual character of this fairly technical yet surprisingly easy to read white paper. This paper serves both the engineer who needs to get down deep with quantitative analyses of the plastic material options for a part — say an application that someone’s life rides on — and designers or technicians who need parts that will survive their product’s projected lifecycle without giving them servicing headaches. For that matter, it also serves the guy who just wants a part and is dealing with some consultant who will not recommend a material (under legal advice).

Developed by Proto Labs, the company behind the Firstcut and Protomold services for custom CNC machined parts and injection-molded parts, respectively, as well as the newly acquired FineLine Prototyping additive manufacturing service, this 10-page PDF could have been titled “Material Selection Matters.” See, it covers the A-to-Z of the material selection process beginning with the elephant in the room: The process is often an educated guessing game. And why shouldn’t it be? Your typical commercial material database offers data on 85,000 or so plastic materials sorted into 45 or so families. Then, material data sheets, like EPA mileage ratings, provide somewhat idealized data. For example, performance characteristics are measured at room temperature. And standard metrics like elongation at break, while nice to know, are not necessarily the performance characteristics you’re after. So you end up digging around application notes, blogs and design manuals to fill in the gaps.

Materials MatterThis is where this paper will come in handy. It breaks down the data you encounter in data sheets and strives to relate that data to general application usage. The effect here is to build up your knowledge base by enhancing your ability to sort through data sheets, to eliminate polymers from consideration and to hone in on the optimal material for your application. It covers a broad spread of data reported on materials, ranging from yield and tensile strength to the relationship between temperature and aging, and from modulus to melt flow rates.

The approach used is to focus on key parameters, such as deflection temperature under load (DTUL) and the Vicat softening temperature when you’re looking at a polymer’s maximum short-use temperature data. You get a few quick insights on what that means then some tips to keep in mind. For example, after explaining that you can determine the upper temperature limit for filled or unfilled amorphous polymers by looking at DTUL data, you’re advised that DTUL values should never be used for long-term performance characteristics, but you can estimate short-term heat resistance using it and Vicat values.

The paper devotes a lot of its discussion to the data on the modulus of a material, where you’ll find the majority of the paper’s nine figures and tables. Among the modulus-related topics explored are how modulus is calculated, stress cracking, the effect of strain rate on modulus and yield stress, temperature effects, and impact resistance. The paper also addresses other material properties such as dielectric constant and strength, surface and volume resistivity, and coefficient of thermal expansion.

And what does this white paper offer you people who just want a part made with an “it’ll do” material? On page 10 you’ll find a section called “Don’t Make Me Do the Math.” It offers a few rules of thumb to try if you want to skip a full numerical analyses. It also includes the best rule of thumb of all: When in doubt, do a full and thorough materials selection process. With the “Materials Matter — The Material Selection Process” white paper at hand, you’ll have a good guide to help you along that road. Hit the link over there and download your copy.

Thanks, Pal.  – Lockwood

Anthony J. Lockwood
Editor at Large, Desktop Engineering

Download “Materials Matter – The Material Selection Process”

About Anthony J. Lockwood

Anthony J. Lockwood is Desktop Engineering's Editor-at-Large. Contact him via de-editors@deskeng.com.