Like designers of other good new products or systems of interconnected components, we begin by clearly defining our goals (including non-intuitive goals), comprehensively considering product needs, and charting a path that builds upon current best practices.
As material design engineers, we strive to first understand how a newly-designed material will impact life-cycle product performance (in addition to initial production and processing costs) and its true value from the perspective of a user or product designer. So in the Goal Definition step, we take time to broadly understand performance and cost impacts of: manufacturing and processing; product installation and use; operations, repair and maintenance; recycling/re-use; and other factors.
Set Initial Design Goals
At the commencement of a material design program (often beginning a “Phase I” program effort), we typically conduct a project kick-off meeting to discuss the initial property design goals with our client (and perhaps other key stakeholders such as key manufacturing partners, suppliers, processors or fabricators). Alloy design goals may include for example: general service conditions; limiting design properties; production, processing and cost constraints; and desirable or undesirable properties of existing material systems. This input provides valuable “Voice of the Customer” input that focuses our initial design activities. We rarely begin a material design and development program without the guidance and input of a major OEM or material end-user.
Survey the Landscape
We then typically use some of our computational tools and background expertise to review incumbent materials and potential substitute materials (including performing an independent literature review), in order to more deeply understand the advantages and disadvantages of competing material systems when used in a specific product application. We then typically develop comparative analyses of these materials for our client.
Develop a Roadmap
Having defined the design goals for a new alloy, we then typically outline an initial Technology Readiness Level (TRL) roadmap to guide our design and development efforts. This typically includes defining tests to demonstrate key material properties (from initial prototype material to more-representative, larger-scale production), and tests to demonstrate key material production or processing requirements. The TRL roadmap is typically a working document that is updated as a material development program proceeds. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_readiness_level
Having clearly defined our goals and thought through production and use implications, we’re now ready to get started conceiving, designing and inventing new materials to meet them.