Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Materials Enabled Designs: The Materials Engineering Perspective to Product Design and Manufacturing

Most of electronics assembly is achieved in non-mechanical bonding processes: lamination, plating, soldering, underfill, encapsulation, and so on. Even mechanical joining — such as board-to-board connectors — is based in one or more material-based interconnect. I promised a review of a materials-focused text in the blog post, New Materials for an Evolving Industry, and Michael Pfeifer's text delivers the well-rounded, prototype-to-production viewpoint of materials usage we were looking for.

Pfeifer’s new text book, Materials Enabled Designs: The Materials Engineering Perspective to Product Design and Manufacturing, published by Butterworth-Heinemann, an imprint of Elsevier, covers design, materials, manufacturing processes, reliability, quality and process control, yield, and cost management with materials as the focus. Engineers should “better understand the risks and rewards associated with…materials used in a product; the manufacturing processes used to produce the product; and the suppliers of materials, components, and subassemblies used in a product,” Pfeifer asserts.

The book also has sections focused on total product design practices and smart operating procedures, which requires most companies to specify components without strict controls over all materials used. Pfeifer offers these tips:
“Start with materials that offer a high probability of success. Do not consider the entire world of materials, components, and subassemblies for use in a product. Work out all details of a strategic custom component or subassembly before using a low-cost supplier. Consolidate materials within and across product platforms. Develop design guidelines. Include a budget for materials engineering support.”

Flow charts and matrices throughout the chapters are visual prompts to readers, asking them to consider product design with discipline and constructive creativity.

While a large portion of the text is devoted to material properties and materials science, the theme throughout is about perspective. The reader should emerge with a stronger background in properties of solders, surface finishes, etc., and — more importantly — with a concept of the role materials play in a product’s success, from design to sourcing to manufacturing and test. As Pfeifer states, poor understanding of materials science can lead to “delayed product launch, field failures, poor customer satisfaction, and poor sales.” He encourages “understanding the relationship between the properties of a material, its compositions, its microscopic structures, and how it was processed.” For example, a high-volume assembly may be dense and small with high computing power, but if the solder specified is easily degraded by the print process, frequent downtime at the printer will kill expected yields. Materials ignorance can be costly.

The text is available from Elsevier. Pfeifer is president of Industrial Metallurgists LLC. He wrote the book based on materials compiled for a Manufacturing and Design Engineering (MaDE) program course at Northwestern University.

Meredith Courtemanche, managing editor

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