To excel, all manufacturing organizations (including those that produce or use adhesives, sealants, and coatings) need an intimate understanding of their products. Products are made out of materials. Materials are shaped, joined, and finished using multiple processes. These are obvious statements, and they point in an equally obvious way to the conclusion that organizations must treat knowledge of their materials and processes as a critical corporate asset.

The trouble is that very often, they don’t. According to Smithers Rapra, around 70% of plastic products fail prematurely, and 45% of these failures are due to poor material selection or substitution. In other words, the manufacturer did not make the best available material choice. Often this comes down to not making best use of the available materials information. Perhaps this should not be a surprise, since Cambridge University spinoff Granta Design found in a recent survey that engineering enterprises typically use 50% of the data generated from materials testing only once before discarding it.


The Challenge

These statistics are symptomatic of the way in which engineering enterprises have typically treated materials data and the information extracted from these data. Materials data are typically gathered in spreadsheets, fileshares or even held only in hard copy form. Data are scattered around organizations, and are difficult to access and use when found. In part, this is because materials and process engineering is a specialist field, and materials data can be complex and difficult to manage.

For example, the properties of bulk engineering materials can be dependent on conditions such as temperature and pressure, requiring complicated equations or graphs to describe them. Similarly, the behavior of structures (such as composite materials) or of the treatments (such as coatings) that are designed to improve the properties of these bulk materials can be dependent on factors such as processing history, direction or geometry. This can mean a complex web of interrelated data is required in order to fully describe them.

In recent years, substantial efforts have been invested to overcome these problems. There has been a recognition of the need to manage materials data in a systematic way and to apply this data to generate intelligence about materials and processes that can, in turn, be applied to generate valuable product intelligence. One project that lays the foundation for this approach is Material Data Management Consortium (MDMC), a collaboration of leading aerospace, defense and energy organizations that began in 2002. With members such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Rolls-Royce, Airbus Helicopters, NASA, and Doosan Power Systems, the MDMC has driven the development of best practices and supporting software tools to ease the process of materials data management, even for challenging systems such as composites.

The GRANTA MI system is an example of this work. It enables engineering enterprises to get their materials data into a single, central materials database (see Figure 1). The structure of this database is configured for key material data types and inter-relationships. Also included within the same system is a library of reference data, providing property information on metals, plastics, and composites from research sources, manufacturers, and relevant standards. The aim is to create a comprehensive materials information resource for the company that can then be made available to people across the organization. One way in which this is achieved is through the GRANTA MI: Materials Gateway technology, which allows engineers to open a window within their CAD, CAE, or PLM system, collect data and guidance on materials from the database, and apply that in their design or simulation work (see Figure 2).


Drivers for Change

What has driven this work? First, as organizations become increasingly cost-conscious, they want to protect existing investments in materials engineering that might otherwise be wasted, and to improve productivity in engineering and design. Second, companies want competitive advantage through effective innovation, and product intelligence can feed this innovation. Finally, and perhaps most powerfully, manufacturers want to limit the various types of risk that can flow from using incomplete, inaccurate, or inconsistent data about materials.

A new, high-profile and high-impact set of risks have been added in recent years (see Table 1). These risks flow from proliferating environmental regulations such as the European Union’s REACH regulation on restricted substances, or the U.S. Dodd-Frank Act on conflict minerals. The problem for manufacturers is much more complex than simply needing to be aware of potential compliance problems due to regulated substances they may use in their products. They also need to meet reporting requirements. They need to be aware of restricted substances that may be used in the processing or surface treatment of their materials. They need to avoid the use of materials that could be rendered obsolete or expensive by regulations—even if these materials are not banned for their particular applications. They need to flag materials that carry a higher risk of containing regulated substances that may be undeclared in the supply chain. And they need to do all of this not only in the context of materials and substances that are regulated today, but also with the best possible information about those that may be registered in the future.


A Coatings Case Study

Coatings provide a great case study to illustrate this challenge and how it is being overcome. Coatings technology is widely used to optimize material properties, particularly for corrosion control. Keith Legg, Ph.D., of Rowan Technology Group, the Illinois-based materials and coatings specialist, explains the vulnerability of coatings to regulatory risks in a statement that he describes as Legg’s Law: “Any material active enough for corrosion control will be a health and environmental hazard.”

Even if a specific coating is benign, the process chemicals to deposit it may not be. For example, chrome plating uses chromic acid, which has been proposed for authorization under REACH. As industry cannot bear the costs of applying for authorizations for all substances that are subject to authorization procedures under REACH, such chemicals may well be withdrawn.

With new legislation continually being produced and existing legislation constantly changing, it can be hard to keep up. Alternatives are often more expensive and (at least in the first instance) not as effective. So what should companies do? Migrate to the next closest option for better availability, lower cost, and technical risk, or hold out for a better replacement, offering better performance and lower cost, but with no guarantee?

The key to surviving all these challenges is material intelligence. If companies can access the right data, quickly, easily, and in the form that they need it, they have the best chance of not just keeping on top of legislation but also future-proofing potential substitutions. A best practice approach might be summarized in seven steps:

•   Be aware of what is in your products

•   Be aware of what chemicals are used to make them

•   Anticipate from lists, databases and suppliers

•   Keep on top of technology and material developments

•   Plan on how and when to change

•  Identify alternatives (this needs materials data and selection tools)

•  Minimize risk and cost by integrating all this within your test and design methodologies

Granta and Rowan Technology Group have been working together to support best practices. This has been achieved by incorporating coatings expertise from Rowan Technology into a coatings data module and making this available within the GRANTA MI system (see Figure 3). This data covers over 140 coatings of different types, including anodizing, corrosion inhibitor, conversion, CVD, electro/electroless plate, heat treat, PVD, and thermal spray. This coatings data sits alongside a database created and maintained by Granta that describes over 80 different international regulations and standards governing restricted substances, together with the substances they impact. These data sources are linked together, and they can be linked to data describing the company’s own materials, processes, and parts.

It is possible to query this information resource to answer questions such as: “What is the impact on my parts and processes of the restrictions on hexavalent chromium or REACH candidate list substances?” “Are any of the coatings I use affected by legislative requirements in other countries?” “What is the risk that this coating may be subject to future restrictions?” “Which potential substitute has the lowest risk of regulation in the future?”

Such a system supports strategic decision making. For example, it helps to design new parts with coatings that will not require substitution during the part’s production lifecycle. This will avoid part non-compliance and stock redundancy issues.

With the practical application of this technology in industry comes the opportunity to test it and refine it to meet real-world challenges. One such challenge is that it is often hard to find a simple “one-to-one” replacement for a coating. You can’t just swap one coating for another for all applications; different coatings will perform differently depending on the application. The response to this challenge has been to enrich the coatings data module with a “Technical Readiness Level” rating that captures the suitability of specific coatings for specific applications on particular substrates, enabling more informed selection and substitution.


Material and Product Intelligence

The Granta coatings data have particularly strong applications in aerospace and oil and gas applications. But the general approach of managing corporate materials information and then applying that information to make more informed product decisions has broad application to bulk materials (e.g., metals, plastics, composites, ceramics), adhesives and sealants, and across all of manufacturing industry; the automotive and medical sectors are just two areas where it is now routinely applied. The good news is that leading engineering enterprises are now valuing material intelligence, and the result can only be better, greener, safer products.

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