Functionally Graded Materials Are More Important Than Ever—and Digital Tools are Making Them Easier to Design

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Below is an excerpt from a recently published Machine Design article by QuesTek senior materials design engineer Tanner Kirk. 

Increasingly, the aerospace, energy, defense and medical device industries are demanding more of their components. This doesn’t just mean a component needs to be stronger, lighter or have higher temperature resistance. It means the component may need to be all of those things at different times in different locations, while also being as inexpensive as possible.    

When selecting materials for these components, design engineers are confronted with a difficult reality: These various factors often involve conflicting tradeoffs in material properties. There is usually no single material that can meet all necessary requirements. 

Historically, engineers have solved this problem by decomposing their designs into multiple parts, each made with a different material for its own intended functionality. However, the complexity of a design tends to increase with the number of its constituent parts, as do the points of failure and costs associated with manufacturing, assembly, qualification and maintenance.   

Fortunately, recent advancements in materials science like additive manufacturing and computational modeling have opened the door for a new solution: Functionally graded materials (FGMs). These materials have properties that change as a function of location in the material and can be used to create multifunctional components. Components made with FGMs are often more optimal than their traditional counterparts as they replace complex assemblies with a continuous structure that satisfies the same design requirements.   

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