Department of Engineering   University of Cambridge

Materials & Process Selection: Selecting Materials

Innovative Materials Selection

Engineering Design is increasingly driven by the objectives of performance, cost and environmental sensitivity. All three, very frequently, are limited by materials.

There are somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 materials available to the engineer. They are drawn from all material classes: metals, polymers, ceramics, glasses, elastomers, composites and so forth. No engineer expects to know much about more than a few, yet to ignore the others will mean eventually, that an opportunity for innovation is missed. The research explores contemporary data sources and techniques for innovative materials selection in mechanical, thermo-mechanical, elecro-mechanical and environmentally-sensitive design. It has led to the development of the Cambridge Materials Selector (CMS), a softwaretool for optimal materials selection. CMS enables the identification of the small subset of materials which will perform best in a given design, from within the full menu of materials.

The research explores novel and innovative procedures for converting design requirements into an optimal material choice. The first stage of the selection (the 'screening' stage) is based on two essential concepts:
  1. performance indices - these translate the design requirements into material in a format suitable for applying the selection criteria.
  2. materials selection charts - these display the properties of materials in a format suitable for applying the selection criteria.
The second stage of the selection (the further information stage) requires a data retrieval system that can handle very large quantities of information in a variety of formats: text, tables, graphs, computer programs, even video clips. The information may come from books, leaflets, CD-ROMs, a manufacturer's databases or the Internet. The second stage allows the selection to be narrowed down to a final choice.

The procedures developed in the research are design-led meaning that the inputs are derived from teh design requirements such as "light stiff beams" or "cheap, safe, pressure vessel", but they are science-based, making the maximum use of the fundamental understanding of material behaviour. The current focus is on:
  1. The complete selection of material, processes and shape
  2. Selection to minimise the environmental impact of the use of materials
  3. Cost estimation

For links on current research go to:

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