What does it mean to define a material as we move along the product lifecycle, from concept, through to engineering design, simulation, prototyping, manufacture, and distribution to the customer? A ‘material’ means one thing to a material engineer, something else to a CAD designer, and another to someone in manufacturing. Companies can spend weeks of wasted effort ensuring consistency or attempting to find or verify data.

Tests and analyses are repeated (at cost), and bills of materials need to be re-mapped. Risks and errors creep into the product due to inaccurate specifications, and ineffectual simulation results. This can lead to an increase in product failures, warranty issues, and product recalls, and the processes that ensure regulatory compliance, version control, and consistency across CAD and PLM breakdown.

Does this sound familiar? If you’re not managing materials data effectively and consistently across your design and development process by integrating singular materials definitions within your PLM, that’s exactly what you’re doing too. And at the very least, these inconsistencies will be stifling innovation, and increasing the time-to-market. So how can we avoid playing materials jeopardy?

Well, we first need to appreciate the nature of the data we want to capture, analyse, use, and re-use. Materials data is vast. The inter-connections that exist between data are complex to manage and navigate, and the data itself needs to be paired with understanding. Maintaining a strict level of consistency of materials definitions is often made more difficult by that data being stored in disconnected databases. And, materials data is not static – it evolves, and does so independently of the product lifecycle.

These challenges can be addressed through a “materials intelligence” view of the data. With this approach, a consistent materials information strategy comprising a single, corporate “gold source” of materials data, integrated with all design and simulation tools is implemented across the company. The GRANTA MI materials information management system, for example, handles the depth of materials information – including all its inter-relationships. Integration options mean that this data can be accessed within CAD, CAE, and PLM systems, with full traceability. Materials are connected to product data, and companies can cost-effectively maintain digital continuity throughout the design and development process.

Of course, whether to use a materials information management system like GRANTA MI or not is a decision that should be made after careful consideration of the options. In the meantime, the bigger picture here is that more companies need to starting thinking about the issues outlined above, especially the consequences and missed opportunities arising from inconsistent materials definitions. However you choose to handle your vital materials information, do so as part of a carefully thought-out materials information strategy.

Beth Harlen

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