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Material selection is a phase in product development where the designers make decisions about what kinds of materials to use in their final product. There are a number of considerations to take into account during this process, including intrinsic qualities of the material, the specs of the project, costs, and factors like sustainability and ethical sourcing. Numerous databases are available to provide project developers with information about common materials on the market and their properties to streamline material selection.
Usually, designers start thinking about what they want to use to fabricate products very early in the design process. They can narrow down their options to general categories like plastics and metals as they start to design the product. As it gets closer to the prototype stage, engineers can start to request samples of materials to examine and may evaluate databases to pick up as much information as possible about available options.
The considerations for material selection may include resistance to corrosion, flexibility, durability, and the ability to take dyes, stains, and paints. The developers can use these parameters to narrow down the list of options to a set of likely candidates. They may weigh some options more than others to help them decide on the best possible choice. Materials selection must also consider the cost. A material may be of very high quality, but would add so much to the cost of production that it wouldn't be worth it. On the other hand, a material might cost more, but would cut down costs by lasting longer or providing some benefit, in which case the high price tag may be an acceptable tradeoff.
Designers must also consider pressures like environmental and social concerns during material selection. A company may have a commitment to using recycled materials or to only sourcing materials from ethically sound companies. Companies may have to decline materials with an unclear provenance or from sources known to use slave labor, cause pollution, or engage in other unethical activities. In some cases, a company may seek out materials from sources with certifications like sustainable forestry certifications for timber products.
The process of material selection may yield several options. It is possible to request samples and fabricate products with different materials to see how they perform, feel, and look. These samples can help the developers make the final decision about what to use in production, often with the assistance of focus groups or beta testers who have a chance to interact with the different models and provide feedback.