Free Online Material Database Speeds Material Selection Process
Isaac Maw posted on November 13, 2017 | 3091 views

In every design process, the question of which material has the right properties to match the project requirements is a fundamental concern for engineers. No matter what your design process, researching materials and sourcing suppliers is a time-consuming task.

Matmatch is a free-to-use, searchable online database of engineering materials from ABS to titanium, and everything in between. With this service, you can quickly gain insight into what materials fit your project’s needs, which options are feasible based on availability and location, and immediately find a supplier to source the materials—all on one platform.

Materials Research and Design Thinking

Some designs begin with a material in mind as a central, defining feature. One example of this is Ford’s F-series switch to aluminum bodies. The design team examined the properties of aluminum that would benefit truck body design, such as rust resistance and lighter weight. These advantages enabled Ford to deliver improvements including better fuel efficiency, safety or towing capacity. However, the downside of a design that depends on certain material properties is that if the need arises to change material later, due to availability or cost, it can be a mad scramble to source a new material that can deliver the same performance.

However, in other cases, the design process starts with another problem, such as form factor or geometry, and material choice is a separate problem to be solved later. An example could be as simple as an assembly jig or as complex as a highly-optimized professional-grade ski boot. How do engineers choose materials with the optimal properties, cost and availability for their project?

The old way was to hit the books. Online searching, poring over textbooks or scanning industry handbooks and datasheets to discover material options is time consuming and presents a problem: how do I know where to search for a material, if I don’t know that material is an option in the first place?

Traditionally, the solution to that problem was professional consultants or experts, which can snowball time and cost of a design phase, and even in a best-case scenario end up leading back to the research desk.

Another problem many run into is the difficulty of comparing suppliers for the same material, such as a specific alloy. Some suppliers give alloys proprietary names or report data in metric or imperial units. This leads to headaches when trying to source the best materials.

Matmatch disrupts the old research process by providing a way to search for materials using chemical, electrical, magnetic, mechanical, thermal or thermophysical properties, as well as by shape (tube, rod, sheet, etc.), suppliers and other parameters.

This screenshot of Matmatch.com shows material results for a given search.
This screenshot of Matmatch.com shows material results for a given search.

However, properties such as tensile strength, density or hardness aren’t the only consideration in material selection. For example, take the design of a simple assembly fixture. You could machine it cheaply from a block of aluminum, which involves creating a drawing, programming a toolpath and machining the part, but this route has certain limitations. For example, all inside corners must have a radius or fillet, and the fixture may be heavy or unwieldy to use and transport. On the other hand, you could have the fixture 3D printed from nylon, enabling 90-degree inside corners, lightweight and low lead time.

Every design contains trade-offs between material selection, production process, cost and time. Without the ability to quickly research new materials, engineers and designers are limited to working within their own knowledge base.

Applications and Projects

We asked Ben Smye, head of growth at Matmatch, what sets it apart from other engineering materials databases out there. He pointed us to two unique tools: the projects tab and the applications search.

“The idea is that the application search can be the discovery entry point, where designers and engineers can find new materials for really specific applications that they wouldn’t have otherwise found,” he said. In the applications search filter, you’ll find a growing list with entries such as ‘aircraft undercarriage’, ‘heat exchangers’ and ‘jewelry.’ Both Matmatch’s team of material scientists and suppliers on the platform are working to further develop the list of applications.

The projects tab has two functions: Private projects allow users to save and group materials conveniently, so they can come back to them later. Public projects, on the other hand, appear in search results, allowing Matmatch users to share new materials solutions for an idea with the wider community.

As mentioned above, Matmatch is useful for discovering new materials for a particular application. One way that the platform makes this possible is through the applications search. Ideally, if you are looking for a material for a certain part, for example an airplane undercarriage or an automobile bumper, you could view a list of materials that have been used for that application.

Finding Suppliers

One of the key features of the platform is the ability to find reputable suppliers for materials. If your material research has previously consisted of Google, Wikipedia or other databases, your only option is to ask suppliers you already know about their materials, or continue your Google quest to find a supplier you hope is reliable.

With Matmatch, the material data is provided by suppliers, as well as material availability, different form factors such as tube, rod or sheet, and geographical location. This makes it faster to go from choosing a material to sourcing it.

For suppliers, partnering with Matmatch to provide data on materials you carry is an opportunity to reach a wider international audience of designers and engineers, help them to find new solutions, and to be a part of those solutions.

Industries

Not every design engineer regularly works with new materials. For a tool designer, for example, the same steels, carbides and coatings probably cover much of your materials needs. Sometimes, however, a design will need to be cost-reduced, and one of the ways to reduce the cost of a part is by changing the material. For example, an expensive engineering resin may be replaceable by a composite product, such as glass-filled nylon.

Whatever the industry though, this new tool should be useful to anyone who works with materials on a day-to-day basis.

To learn more, visit Matmatch.com.


Matmatch has sponsored this post.  All opinions are mine.  -- Isaac Maw


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