The winning position

One of the main goals of Engineering Materials is to encourage the use of material innovations and corresponding technology, to enable product advantage. Go lighter, stronger, quicker, or whatever, by using the right material, in the right way, for the right application. And this is a fluid process that is ever changing.

New materials to market are continuous, in particular in the composites industry. Composites have become synonymous with lightweight and performance advantage, and while people generally use the term interchangeably with carbon fibre reinforced polymer parts, metal composites are becoming increasingly available to address areas where carbon fibre simply can't cope, at least not effectively or economically.

We cover a recent example of where aluminium composites are being developed for the higher volume markets on page 16, and how the material could help lightweight components like suspension systems and engine blocks. However, with all this new innovation, and corresponding materials, are risks that need to be carefully engineered and tested.

The importance of being first to market is a doctrine well known by marketeers and business strategy managers, but this can put pressure on engineers and designers to deliver technology that has little, or no, in-service data. While it might bring 'first-mover advantage', it can expose short comings. And this can lead to products being released unfit for service, or restrict the application of new and innovative materials to mitigate risk.

Incorporating new materials and being first to market must be balanced against one another. History is littered with examples of companies that have tried to do both, and instead of offering market advantage, the result has been unforeseen problems and product recalls.

Boeing is a recent example, with its 787 Dreamliner. Its race with Airbus to be the first to produce a carbon fibre aircraft experienced a three year delay, and has had numerous high profile problems since its general release. Most recently, reports claim 40 aircraft on its production line have been found with hairline cracks.

The moral of the story is to seek product advantage by developing a better product, utilising the right technology and right materials, as being first is not always the winning position.

Justin Cunningham

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