The Design Advantage

Composite materials are getting the attention of more and more part makers and this is a good thing but composite materials suppliers have some educating to do in those markets where the material selection process is still skewed toward metal or plastic.

In simple terms, the performance characteristics of isotropic materials like metal and plastic are largely a function of the material itself while the superior thermo-mechanical performance of a composite part owes as much and sometimes more to design than to the material itself. Moreover, that performance comes not only from the design of the part, i.e., final shape and geometry, but also from the design of the composite material itself, i.e., the choice of matrix and fiber, the distribution of the two, the numbers of layers, and the orientation of those layers in the laminate. All of these factors combined add up to a composite materials design advantage.

Where metal or plastic has been the norm, the switch to composite materials can be a challenge. Some part makers want to see how a composite version will perform before making a selection, but that is unrealistic when the composite design options are virtually unlimited: it doesn’t make sense to fabricate, mold and test more than a couple of those options. A better approach is to use computer-aided design tools to test the potential performance of many design iterations in a virtual environment and use that information to home in on the best one to take all the way to real-world testing.

For more on using computer aided design, simulation and analysis tools to seize the composite materials design advantage, check out the excellent article by Altair Engineering’s Robert Yancey beginning on page 54 of JEC Magazine, Issue No. 94. (Requires free subscription.)