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A Gamble You Can’t Afford to Lose: Finding the Right Materials for Your Product

Steve Cartier
at PopFoam
Updated Sep 20, 2022

Here are crucial steps to finding the best materials for your manufactured products.

Once business owners complete the ideation process to create an innovative product, they should uphold it with high-quality materials. Finding the right materials is an important step in the process and can make or break your reputation with customers. Here’s how to find materials that fit the bill. 

How to find the right materials for your product

1. Examine the material’s property specifications.

These specs are easily available, and they are especially helpful for exploring and understanding new or unfamiliar material options. If you examine the baseline capabilities of one material versus another, it’s easy to whittle down the list of options.

At this stage, it’s also helpful to evaluate materials in their raw state. Quality raw materials are not only easier to process, but they also create less scrap. If you’re open-minded about material options at the outset, it’ll help you overcome preconceived notions and develop a short list of viable options that still ensures product quality.

2. Define the priorities of your product.

What will it take for a product to grab consumers’ attention and fly off the shelves? It could be the price point, the performance, the exterior appearance or something else entirely.

You want to make your product perfect in every way, but, realistically, most products have just one or two real selling points. Identifying your selling points informs the type of materials you should use. After all, if a product looks great on the shelves but falls apart after a few uses, it’s only going to inspire disappointment.

3. Run production samples.

Create a production prototype as quickly as possible after making the initial choices about what materials to use. Once that product exists in three dimensions, it should be clear where and why problems with the materials exist. Conversely, any problems could be with the manufacturing process itself.

Either way, production samples are an important testing ground for a product still in its infancy. Specific issues to look for include weak tolerance, surface imperfections, mold lines, shrinkage and warping, or any product failure. Finding and resolving these problems early prevents them from becoming insurmountable or irreversible later in the process.

4. Test early and often.

Each material has many variables to evaluate: tensile strength, tear strength, elongation, split tear strength, compression set, rebound, temperature resistance, accelerated aging and so on. It’s possible to reference this data based on an industrial standard size, but materials are fundamentally transformed when they are turned into parts and products.

Real-world testing is the only way to get accurate and actionable data. Testing should begin as early as possible, and it should be repeated as products evolve through each iteration. One of the common traps business owners fall into is assuming that some variables will stay the same even as others change. 

Bottom LineBottom Line: Rigorously and repeatedly test your products in order to root out any imperfections.

5. Embody the end user.

You understand your product better than anyone else, but that doesn’t mean your understanding is perfect or unbiased. The nature of the design process makes it easy to lose sight of your larger goal. As a result, entirely avoidable issues with materials carry through into the final product.

As part of your ongoing testing effort, you must enlist independent and objective evaluations. Ideally, actual target users (usually five to 10 people) should be doing the testing. Set benchmarks for performance, but other than that, allow test users to explore and engage with prototypes according to their own whims.

This type of unguided, hands-on testing is invaluable for identifying product flaws that you’re otherwise unaware of, and it’s something your end users enjoy.

6. Weigh the risks and rewards.

Unfortunately, extensive testing is not always possible. Some materials require production tooling to be created before test parts can match their final form. And until that happens, effective prototyping is impossible. That forces you to balance the risk of moving forward with an unproven prototype against the risk of investing in tooling that may need to be altered later on – and that process won’t come cheaply.

Both options offer benefits and hazards that are weighted differently, depending on the particulars of the product. You should only consider forgoing testing at any point if you’re supremely confident in the product.

7. Consult with the manufacturer.

You can enlist the help of a materials expert, but even the best in the industry lack the expertise of material manufacturers themselves. Throughout the material selection process, the manufacturer is an excellent resource for data, ideas and troubleshooting. This is especially true when working with innovative products or unfamiliar materials. 

TipTip: Seek out manufacturers that are eager to serve as consultants and partners, then enlist their help until the final product is where you want it to be.

You can either find the flaws during the product development phase, or you can rush your product to market and let consumers find the issues themselves. Either way, the problems will become apparent, but that doesn’t mean they have to inspire buyer’s remorse. Carefully considering what materials to use ensures that designs become better, not worse, once they debut.

The risks of using the wrong materials for your product

Your product won’t be as durable.

The goal of any company should be to ensure that its products last a long time and remain safe to use. If you opt for cheaper materials, they will most likely be of lower quality, and in certain cases, that can be dangerous. Products could malfunction, break or even fail to operate as intended. This includes how you package your product. If the packaging is poor, the product could be damaged by the time it reaches the consumer. 

Choose materials that can hold up under anticipated conditions, endure normal usage, and keep consumers satisfied. Otherwise, you will lose consumers to other companies due to unreliable or cheaply made products. 

It can tarnish your brand’s reputation.

No one wants to be known as a company that has poorly made products or whose materials are cheap. Once consumers buy and test out your products, they will most likely talk about those products with others and show them off at homes. However, if a new customer determines your products are not worth the investment, they may steer others away or leave negative reviews, which can impact future sales and customers. 

To maintain or elevate your brand’s reputation, avoid picking the wrong materials to make your product. With top-quality materials, you’ll retain more customers and bring in new ones, increasing your revenue and reputation. 

FYIFYI: Material choice is a crucial step in the production process and can have a major impact on your business as a whole.

It affects your costs.

 While purchasing cheaper materials in the beginning may seem beneficial, it can result in rusting, warping, fading or breaking. If you fail to use the proper materials, you may end up putting in more money than anticipated to fix the products or ship new ones to customers. 

When working with poor-quality materials, consider the costs of reworking, shipping, chargebacks and returns. Reworking products due to errors in production or quality can cost a few dollars per item, which adds up in the long run. Additionally, you may begin to notice a drop in sales and customer retention, ultimately affecting the survival of your company.

Additional reporting by Sean Peek.

Image Credit:

Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Steve Cartier
Steve Cartier is the co-founder and director of engineering of PopFoam, the leader in the injection molded EVA closed-cell foam process that specializes in complex geometries. Steve and his business partner, Troy Lewis, launched PopFoam almost 15 years ago and have been on a quest to push the limits of EVA foam injection molding since. Steve has more than 35 years of experience in plastics, from development and ownership of a high-tech injection molding facility to being one of the first in the area to implement 3D computer modeling into the plastics industry.