With enhanced quality programs now standard in industry, the prospect of product failures act like a microscope in focusing a firm's attention on materials. Baxter Healthcare Corp., like many plastic processors, would like information to help designers and engineers choose the correct materials to fulfill product specifications.
Eaton Corp. of Cleveland has attempted to develop a computer program that would help its electrical engineers determine the right resins for various applications.
Both companies have been developing computer programs to simplify and interpret the vast amounts of materials information developed by thermoplastic resin manufacturers.
Baxter of Deerfield, Ill., has conducted a pilot study using a database compiled by Integrated Design Engineering Systems of Laramie, Wyo.
Margaret Heckman, a technical quality associate for Baxter's Medical Methods Technology Center, said the company begins planning a new product by consulting two material databases: Ides' and Baxter's own, internal database.
While she stressed that the databases and Baxter's processes for using them are still under development, Heckman said they appear to have great potential.
Heckman and Martin Monaghan, a senior principal engineer for Baxter, spoke at an Aug. 1-2 conference on materials databases sponsored by Ides in Laramie.
Baxter uses only a fraction of the 20,000 commercially available thermoplastic resins and, because the medical products industry represents such a small part of the total market, the industry has little leverage in influencing resin development, Monaghan said.
``For us, selecting materials that are used in similar applications can reduce qualification time, and getting it right the first time reduces costs,'' he said.
``Changes in the design stage cost 10 times as much, changes in the tooling stage cost 100 times as much, changes in the testing stage cost 1,000 times as much and changes in the release stage cost 10,000 times as much,'' Monaghan said.
Based on Ides' database, which includes product specifications supplied by resin makers, and its own experiences, Baxter has developed an edge in determining the optimum materials to use in its products, according to Monaghan.
Ides President Michael Kmetz noted that making such decisions with the best information at a materials specifiers' fingertips could limit liabilities and damages in the event of a failure.
Mark Polyczynski, an Eaton research and development program manager, said his team's goal was to develop a way to help engineers who have little or unsophisticated knowledge about materials choose the correct material.
Polyczynski also spoke at the Ides conference.
Eaton's program works with Ides' computer selection program but, unlike other programs, it is directed at applications requirements rather than material properties, Polyczynski said.
In that way, he said, it tells electrical engineers which material families have been used in specific applications, rather than which materials have performance characteristics that could make them suitable.
``It is a communication tool designed to make people aware of other families of plastics that could work in their applications,'' Polyczynski said.
``We have many people making nonoptimal plastic selections. We do molding at 30 locations worldwide. We use several hundred different types of plastics. We have very few plastics experts.
``We usually use what we used last time, or we just call the supplier,'' he added.
While he and his team report 95 percent accuracy in test situations, they also said Eaton's computer program has not been proven in real situations.
Neither Baxter nor Eaton has developed a time frame in which they expect their systems to be operational.