The benefits of materials engineering

STAMPING Journal October 2005
October 11, 2005
By: Michael Pfeifer

U.S. stampers are missing an opportunity to gain a competitive edge by offering materials engineering support, which often is lacking within OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers. Many stampers take the position that they "just build to a print"—but so do overseas shops.

OEMs and Tier 1 manufacturers are moving business to global low-cost suppliers. As a result, U.S. stampers are trying to remain competitive by cutting costs or offering more services.

U.S. stampers
are missing an opportunity to gain
a competitive edge
by offering materials engineering support
that the OEMs and
Tier 1 suppliers
often lack.

U.S. stampers are missing an opportunity to gain a competitive edge by offering materials engineering support that the OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers often lack. Instead, many stampers take the position that they just build to a print—but so do overseas shops. So how will U.S. stampers differentiate themselves?

Choosing the Right Materials

All products comprise a variety of materials, and each material may have to perform more than one function. For example, stamped aluminum housings may have electrical contact and corrosion requirements, as well as mechanical strength parameters. Also, the part must be designed so it's easy to manufacture.

In most cases, OEMs or Tier 1 suppliers are not buying just a mechanical part. They need a surface that an adhesive will adhere to, a material that will weld properly, or a metal that won't corrode or cause another material to corrode. This is why it's important to understand how each component fits into the overall design, including its interaction with other materials. By overlooking these issues, OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers are missing opportunities to reduce overall design and product costs. Currently OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers rely on expensive product validation tests to uncover materials compatibility and reliability issues.

Without proper materials expertise, engineering teams focus on materials and parts solely for their mechanical functions. These teams often miss considerations related to processing, manufacturability, degradation and reliability, environmental exposure, corrosion, electrical, and cosmetic requirements. They are not familiar with all the analytical techniques available to help them characterize and understand the materials and components received from their suppliers.

Poor materials decisions can be costly and time-consuming and frequently result in failed product validation tests, redesigns, delayed launches, and future product problems.

Adding Value Through Technical Distinction

The first step in gaining a competitive edge is to understand the materials used to make products. This means developing a knowledge base about the effects of processes and material properties of a completed component. It also entails learning about materials characterization methods and their applications. For example, how do weld process parameters affect strength, microstructure, and reliability of a weld joint?

The second step is to offer materials engineering support to a customer's design team. This requires understanding a component's cost, performance, reliability, and manufacturing requirements. Only then can a stamper provide value-added technical expertise to help customers make more informed decisions about materials and process options; component manufacturability; interaction with other materials and components within the final product; material characteristics and reliability; and issues that might affect product assembly.

For example, a stamped aluminum cover is powder-coated for corrosion and cosmetic appearance. It also must pass various impact tests to evaluate the coating's integrity. In addition, a wet seal adhesive attaches the cover to a cast aluminum housing. Some material design considerations in this case are:

  • The optimal combination of cover alloy and powder coat material for stamping, powder coat adhesion, and cost.
  • Cover surface conditions such as cleanness or roughness for good powder coat adhesion.
  • Wet seal adhesion properties of different powder coat materials.
  • Bench-level tests to evaluate the proper powder coat thickness.

This engineering support will help the customer meet its timelines, reduce product development costs, improve the quality and reliability of the final product, and eliminate surprises. The benefit to the stamper is technical expertise beyond other shops'.

Proactive Versus Reactive

Many manufacturers wait until a problem occurs with a part before paying attention to the materials. And even then they're interested only in what went wrong and how to prevent the problem from recurring. The problem with this approach is that relatively little is learned about the materials, which provides no insight into future problems.

The costs for a thorough material analysis at the beginning of a new program may be the same or even less than the costs associated with a field failure or shutting down a customer's line. Instead of spending money finding out what went wrong, stampers should focus on understanding what it takes to make their product right—all the time.

Spending time and money to analyze part materials used in products is not a new engineering process. The analyses and materials engineering usually are straightforward and follow standard practices. Most of the materials used are well-understood, and the tests to characterize them are well-established.

Can stampers afford not to provide value-added technical services?

In this competitive global environment, service distinctions are critical to a shop's success. These distinctions can include becoming a technical expert to add value to a customer's design by solving problems quickly.

Remember, there are plenty of stampers that only build to print.

Michael Pfeifer

Ph.D., P.E., President
Industrial Metallurgists LLC
900 Hawthorne Lane
Northbrook, IL 60062
Phone: 847-528-3467
His company offers online metallurgy training courses and engineering consulting. Pfeifer is also the author of Materials Enabled Design, which discusses product development and manufacturing from a materials engineering perspective.

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STAMPING Journal is the only industrial publication dedicated solely to serving the needs of the metal stamping market. In 1987 the American Metal Stamping Association broadened its horizons and renamed itself and its publication, known then as Metal Stamping.

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