Thousands of new products hit the marketplace every year. Each one of those products - from medical equipment to kitchen tools - requires hundreds of decisions during the design and development process, including choices about what materials manufacturers will use.
Granta Design Ltd. has developed a way to help companies select materials quickly, and help material suppliers, including resin companies, get information about their blends to key decision makers.
``It's a systemic approach to material selection,'' Chief Operating Officer Patrick Coulter said in a May 6 interview in Milwaukee. Coulter was in Milwaukee for Granta's materials strategy meeting and seminar, to discuss the software-based approach.
Making material choices early helps to smooth the launch of new products, he said. At the same time, companies can establish a corporatewide strategy that is easy to track and moves them toward their specific goals, such as using more recycled resins or less-expensive compounds.
The medical industry, for instance, must use materials that can be sterilized and that meet federal safety standards. Granta's design software automatically can steer product designers toward those types of plastic materials from the start, reducing the potential for last-minute changes.
Granta of Cambridge, England, launched its first material selection software package in May 2007 and is updating that information for the next-generation version it will introduce soon.
About half of its customers are based in North America, Coulter said, and include major corporations with global brands. Those firms want a way to track every decision made on a new product, he said, and having a corporate strategy in place for material selection is easier than making decisions case by case.
``The idea here is that companies are under a number of pressures to meet targets in terms of weight or environmental issues or cost,'' he said.
A company typically relying on steel or other metals can use the program to see whether and what plastics might be compatible, for example. Or, in another scenario, if someone wants to know why a particular resin was used, the company can look at the product development process to show that the resin choice fit the corporation's strategy - whether that strategy calls for using the least expensive blend, the one most easily recycled, or one that can take the high heat of sterilization as for a medical product.
That strategy also makes it less likely that the material choice will be reversed later in the process, he said. ``The benefit of making the right material solution early is very, very large,'' he said.
For plastics suppliers, Granta's software allows them to bring information about their resins to people who are making decisions about future products, he said.