True or false: materials selection is a one-time, upfront process during product development.
The answer is false. While it may be more convenient to set it and forget it with materials, this isn't the most prudent or sustainable approach. Between supply chain challenges and emerging innovations, we recommend that you never write your raw materials in stone.
Here are three signs that now is the time to update or reconsider your material selection.
#1 – When material availability is disrupting production
It's no secret that the supply chain is one of the top challenges for manufacturers. In May 2022, Forbes reported a 100-day average lead time for production materials, the highest in three and half decades.
At many companies, the situation is forcing purchasing departments to scramble or pay exorbitant prices for necessary materials. The worst-case scenario is a manufacturer scaling back or halting production due to insufficient materials.
However, similar materials may be available with shorter lead times or more reliable delivery. Of course, you don't want to sacrifice the quality or performance of your product, so it's paramount to consult with a manufacturing partner with material expertise to find a suitable replacement.
Example: Recently, a paper strike in Europe jeopardized production for one of our customers. Knowing the application requirements and having pre-qualified the component’s materials, our team was able to recommend an alternative material and provide samples to avoid further downtime.
#2 – When the current materials are being phased out or are obsolete
Just like any other product, materials have a lifecycle. What was once new to the market and readily available, may now be a legacy offering from a material supplier. Inevitably, these materials will be replaced by the next generation.
For product designers and engineers, it may be difficult to transition away from a material that has worked well for several years. However, we often ask customers if the benefits of the legacy material are worth the sourcing headaches. In our experience, it's always better to get ahead of sunsetting materials. The last thing you want to do is wait until the material is completely off the market to find a newer (often better) replacement.
When working with a materials expert, you can outline what attributes of the material made it a workable solution for your product. This is also a good time to identify any weaknesses or challenges you've experienced with the material that you learned to deal with over time. Quite often, we can find a more contemporary material option, whether an updated version from the same supplier or a comparable product from a new vendor.
Example: A Tapecon customer recently experienced a material being phased out by the supplier. We identified an available alternative and provided the material with ample time for testing, which is especially important for this customer.
#3 – When a higher quality or less expensive material could be available
The prevailing belief is, "if it's not broke, don't fix it." However, with this mentality, you could be missing out on new opportunities, which is a risk in itself.
Material science is constantly evolving. Every year, new and innovative materials become available that could potentially improve your product's quality or functionality. Likewise, as technologies become more mainstream, prices for materials can become more competitive across suppliers. That means it's possible to get essentially the same material for a lower price or consolidate your vendor list.
The bottom line is that it doesn't hurt to periodically reevaluate your materials selection, even if you're satisfied with what you're currently using. There are two potential scenarios:
- You validate that you're still using the optimal materials
- You identify a higher quality, more innovative, or more cost-efficiency option
Example: Inflation has resulted in rising material costs. For some customers, we’ve found that originally specified materials are over-engineered for the application. Our team has researched, tested, and qualified less expensive materials that have met or exceeded application requirements.
Choose a manufacturing partner with materials expertise
In addition to advanced manufacturing capabilities, Tapecon is focused on solving our client's application challenges. Often, this is where our materials expertise can provide immense value.
Our team has extensive knowledge of materials for converting, printing, and packaging – from adhesives, films, and foams to functional inks and specialty coatings. Equally important is the fact that we have close relationships with leading materials suppliers.
During materials selection (or revaluation), we aim to optimize the price, quality, and delivery of raw materials. If you fall into any of the three categories covered in this article, reach out to explore alternate materials for your product.
Let's make something great
With over 100 years of manufacturing experience, Tapecon works with product teams to solve challenges, create products, and enhance lives. Learn more about our materials expertise.