Choosing which materials you choose to build your product from is one of the most important decisions you’ll make during product design. This choice will affect everything from the durability and longevity of the product, to how it will look and feel to potential buyers, to the cost. Pretty much every aspect of the design will be affected by the materials you build it from. All of this will have a big impact on the product’s end value, and ultimately on the success of your invention.
With advances in modern manufacturing technology, there’s more mateials avaible to product developers and entrepreneurs than ever before. Choosing the right material for your project can sometimes seem daunting. To help you make the right decision, heres’s some considerations to make and some questions you can ask yourself about the nature of your project that can guide you to making the proper decisions.
What is the Mood of Your Product?
While material selection makes a critical difference in the mechanical properties of your product, they have an important aesthetic effect. Unless you’re designing parts that will eventually be hidden inside machines or behind panels, the visual and tactile qualities of your product will be significant factors when it comes to competing for market share.
This is true even for products that aren’t meant to be considered consumer grade. Tools, medical devices, and other more practical products will still be handled and interacted with. In other words, professionals expect quality in their tools, and that quality will be reflected largely by what the tools are built from. It’s important that your choice of materials helps to support the kind of image, moods, or style that you want your product to convey.
For example, a medical device should probably convey cleanliness and comfort, and maybe even calm. Soft plastics or rubber, cream colors, and smooth finishes make sense in this context. Bright colors, many materials, with a rough surface? Probably not.
This article from the International Journal of Design lists 16 different “personalities” or moods for consumer electronics — and that’s all for products that are in the same category! The materials you choose to build from will form a big part of your communication with consumers. So send the proper message! Is your product supposed to be silly and fun? Or is it something more serious, professional, or elegant?
How Will Your Consumer Interact With the Product?
How your product makes the consumer feel when they see it or handle it is one thing. How the product feels to them is another! Select materials that are appropriate to the manner in which you intend (or expect) people to use your product.
Obviously, if your product is going to be used in some sort of industrial or heavy-duty context, then you’ll want to build it from something strong like steel or a high-performance polycarbonate. If you’re designing for industrial use, be sure to select materials that provide the mechanical properties and tolerance required by the application. That’s pretty self-explanatory, but there are also subtle ways in which the choice of materials can make a difference.
A pristine white plastic might look great now, but with a bit of wear and use it might start to look dirty or grimey quickly. Gold or silver plating can look gorgeous, but can also end up getting worn out with regular contact. The dyes in certain nylon-based plastics used in SLS 3D printing can sometimes fade if the product is handled regularly, but are great for products that don’t receive a lot of handling.
You’ll also want to consider texture in this regard. If you’re designing something which is meant to be handled, then obviously you’ll want to use materials that are physically comfortable. But texture is also important aesthetically. Dp you want your design to be more rugged, rustic, or refined? These are all aesthetic qualities that will be provided largely by the material selection.
Make Sure the Price is Right
Coming in at the right price point is hugely important to any new product design. In addition to planning for the mechanical and material properties, you need to select materials that will allow for you to sell your invention at the proper price point. Whether your goal is to produce a luxury good or a low-cost consumer product will dictate the types of materials available to you.
Steel is quite inexpensive, but is heavy and doesn’t finish as nicely as other more expensive metals like bronze or brass. Aluminum comes in at a higher price point than steele, but is considerably lighter. Luxury metals like gold and silver are now readily available even for additive manufacturing/3D printing.
This is an area where market research pays off. You have to understand the price at which your product will likely be competitive in the market and appealing to consumers. Some designs might do well competing at a higher price point than they would at a cheaper one using less expensive materials. You have to know your audience.
With rapid manufacturing technologies, it is now possible to produce for different price points. Your custom jewelry piece can be produced both in a higher-end gold edition as well as a lower-cost brass. Whether releasing your product in different tiers is an option for you will depend on the nature of your product and the environment in which it will be competing.
Prepare for Wear and Tear
It’s important to consider the type of handling and wear that your product is likely to experience over the course of its lifetime. Different materials will show wear differently over time. Will your product be something that is left sitting pretty on shelves, or will it spend its days in the hands and pockets of consumers?
Different materials will react differently to dirt, scratches, and even the oil from people’s skin. If you’re manufacturing in colored plastic, you need to know whether the dyes are likely to fade with wear if your product is one which is likely to be handled frequently.
For metalic products, brass, bronze, gold and silver tend to be fairly durable, though gold-plated brass can be worn through with regular rubbing or exposure to skin. So while it might work well for decorative objects, it’s not well suited for jewelry.
Finished or Unfinished?
Finally, you want to consider the final texture and surface finish you want for your product. There is a wide range of finishing options available, from painting to texturing to polishing.
Most metals will be available either matte or polished, depending on the aesthetic requirements of your design. This will affect both the look at the feel of the final product. More rustic designs might call for a raw, unpolished look, while more elegant designs might be better suited to a polished finish.
Finishing details are of particular importance to 3D printing and additive manufacturing. Depending on the manufacturing method, 3D printed parts and models, there may be support structures that need to be removed and the surface finish may need to be sanded, if that’s what your design calls for.
Other finishing options to consider are:
- Bead blasting/Sand blasting
- Hardware (screws, fasteners, etc)
Choosing the right material can have a significant impact on the value of your product. As is often the case, perhaps the best advice that we can give is to put plenty of effort into research well before you reach the manufacturing stage. Do as much prototyping as your project’s budget allow for to get the best possible sense of what materials will best suit your product, and consider the needs and expectations of your potential consumers. As always, the more information you arm yourself with in advance, the better chance your product has of success.
Whether you’re still in the early planning phases or you’re preparing to start manufacturing, Cad Crowd’s product design services are available to help you meet your project goals. Whether you’re looking for product design, patenting, or manufacturing services, we’ve got you covered.