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Using innovative materials in new product design.


Few teams embrace material innovation as part of their new product innovation process, but those that do, have the ability to lead the market and change our world.

Tony McConnell, Haworth Inc November 2013

Observe Understanding Innovative Materials


Filling your basket

Incubate Solution

Select the best materials Random to Relevant tools




Implementing material innovation into practice

Materials make a difference in our daily lives, and successfully rewards companies that look to innovate with materials.


Kevlar bullet proof vest

Cling Film

Carbon Fiber


New resilient foam

Using innovative materials in new product design.

The last 20 years has seen significant growth in the creation and development of new and innovative materials. The thousands of materials; and their respective manufacturing processes that are available to design teams can be overwhelming and difficult to fully understand. Making the right material choices for the success of the project is essential, but this can be a complex and frustrating problem. A process that allows a design team to take a large number of innovative materials and by choosing the right constraints and asking the right questions, filter these down to leave the best performing material candidates, would be especially valuable to those tasked with developing and commercializing a new product design. This thesis proposes to simplify the process of material selection used in new product development projects, by using tools and learning’s gained from the New North Center “Innovation Management Certification” class. The thesis follows the outline of the “creative sequence” steps; namely,

Observation – Investigation – Incubation – Solution – Decision - Validation.

In the observation and investigation phase we implore teams to search out new materials from diverse environments from all over the world. In the Incubation phase we characterize and input these new materials into a (computer) library database. In the solution and decision phases we use the tools of the IMC class to filter out the materials that are best suited for the intended application. Finally in the validation phase, the materials are tested out and validated prior to launching the new product. It is proposed that the process would work as follows - we take the learning’s from the “Innovation Management Certification” class of “Filling your basket” and repurpose it to a method that allows for continuously finding innovative materials that can be considered for creating future products. An understanding of the “Innovation Management Certification” class learning’s of “constraints, hurdles, and barriers” provides a perspective of what filters can be developed and used for narrowing a large number of material candidates down to a few best candidates. Finally, an “Innovation Management Certification” tool known as “Random to Relevant” can be used to assist a project team to agree upon a series of filters that organizes the material selection process, and provides an outcome that identifies the correct material candidates for a product design. By identifying a number of filter categories that apply constraints, and by understanding the barriers to implementation, it is possible to systematically reduce the vast number of material options that are available at the outset of a project down to a small number of relevant materials that can undergo further optimization, and validation.


See beyond the obvious – why material innovation matters.

In new product development, and when designing a new product it is important to identify the best material for the job, not just for its intended function, but choosing a material that goes well beyond the performance of existing materials. The sports industry in particular has a successful high profile history of showing how new high performance materials that are, stronger, lighter and more responsive, push the boundaries of the sport. Other industries too have improved their products, and become leaders in their business by reevaluating and replacing the materials that they use in their current products with new innovative materials that are continuously being developed. It is interesting to look at the material evolution of a product over time and see how the product has improved over time with material substitution and material innovation. Carbon fiber bicycle frames, tennis rackets, golf clubs, fishing rods, military aircraft, are also good examples of how products evolve over time and improve with the implementation of new innovative materials. In the badminton racket example given in the next section we describe how a product evolved with changes in materials over a number of decades to the present day carbon fiber racket. Understanding the history and evolution of how and why the design of the racket changed also brings to light how implementing new materials into a design calls for new ways of manufacturing, new performance specifications, new ways of assembly, and new form designs.

Example – Historical change in the sport of Badminton due to material innovation

If we consider the materials used in a badminton racket, the early badminton rackets were made of laminated layers of wood veneers glued and molded into an oval shape, the rackets were made this way for over 60 years. The sport was a nice relaxed casual game played outdoors by families at social gatherings

The all wooden badminton racket changed little for over half a century

Early 1900’s


The stringing of the rackets was done with animal gut, which had the desired elastic properties to be pulled tightly but not too tight that it would break easily or distort the shape of the wooden racket. Gut stringing was prone to a reduction in tension due to ambient humidity changes. A change in the racket design was first made in the early 1960’s, when the shaft section of the wooden badminton rackets was replaced using steel tubing, and this metal shaft was then bonded into the wooden head of the racket . The introduction of the new metal shaft allowed for a lighter racket with better aerodynamics, and “whip” or flexibility. After 50 years of relative stagnation, the sport of badminton was about to embark upon an exciting growth. As with all innovation and change, there was the usual outcry from people not wanting to change to the new metal shaft because they claimed it would provide an ‘unfair advantage’, and would “ruin the spirit of game”. Wooden racket manufacturers did not have knowledge manufacturing with steel tubing and resisted change to their long established manufacturing practices and supply chain. They made claims that the steel shafts would bend or break easily.

A revolutionary first step in material substitution resulted in a steel tube shaft replacing the wooden shaft, but the racket head was still made of wood.

Within the space of a decade, adoption of the steel shaft was established, and the next change involved replacing the wooden head of the racket with steel tubing. Once again there was an outcry and resistance to the change. The steel tube shaft was joined to the steel tube head using a new method that used a “T� shaped lug connection. These new all metal rackets were lighter than wooden headed rackets, and the game of badminton moved further away from a slow recreational paced pastime, to a faster more exciting sport, with smashes now approaching 120 mph. The steel tube racket head did not warp or distort like the wooden heads, and head clamps were no longer needed to prevent warpage of the racket head when it was being stored. New developments in the stringing of rackets also started to take place where animal gut was replaced with synthetic strings not affected by humidity could be strung to a higher tension without fear of warping the racket head. Again there was an outcry of resistance to changing the materials in the racket, and the companies who were entrenched in the wooden manufacturing methods and were reluctant to change, quickly saw their businesses disappear virtually overnight.

A few years later a second material substitution step involved replacing the wooden head of the racket with steel tubing.

Head clamps were no longer needed once the wooden head of the racket was replaced with steel tubing.

The steel tube headed racket also allowed for a slight change in the racket head shape, the oval shape that was used in the process of laminating wood veneer changed, and the new metal rackets introduced a new isometric shape that produced a sweet spot on the racket which improved the accuracy and power of a shot. Steel tube badminton rackets were very popular for about a decade, but then another change happened, Just like steel tubing replaced the wooden shaft of the badminton racket in the early 1960’s, in the early 1980’s the metal shaft of the badminton racket was suddenly replaced with a carbon fiber shaft. The carbon fiber shaft was lighter and more elastic than the metal shaft thereby allowing more flexibility of the head and creating faster smashes now approaching 130 mph. the “T” shaped lug was still retained as the method to connect the new carbon fiber shaft to the metal head. The sport welcomed the new changes in racket design.

In the 1980’s the steel shaft was replaced with a carbon fiber shaft, but the racket head was still made of steel.

With the success of replacing the metal shaft section of the racket with a carbon fiber shaft it was inevitable that the next step in changing materials would be that the metal tube head of the racket would change to carbon fiber. As expected, it was a very short time after the introduction of the carbon fiber shaft for the steel head portion of the racket to also be replaced with carbon fiber material. Not long after this material substitution change; the racket was molded in carbon fiber as one complete unit, and the T shaped lug that connected the head to the shaft was eliminated. The new carbon fiber rackets are today’s best performing rackets in the sport. Future material innovation enhancements are now focused on replacing carbon fiber with carbon nanofiber, and graphite composites.

A side by side comparison of the 1980’s racket (head and shaft are separate joined by a lug connector), versus today’s one piece carbon fiber racket on the right.

Thanks to material innovation, today’s game of badminton is much faster, and more exciting than the days when wooden rackets were used.

Observation (continued)

Consider the following three areas of interest 1) The development of a new material i.e. Kevlar 2) The substitution of an existing material with a different material. 3) A new product design requiring a material recommendation

1) The development of a new material



Transistors - semi conductors

In the first scenario, the development of a new material is usually undertaken by materials scientists at Universities, Government Laboratories, and large material focused corporations. This type of material innovation can have profound effects on many industries as companies consider how the newly developed materials can be used in their own industries; a good example is the use of carbon fiber that was initially developed for the aerospace industry, and is now finding use in many other industries with great success, the sporting industry especially has seen widespread use of carbon fiber. Other examples of material innovations are the development of Kevlar by DuPont scientists, and the development of Pyrex, and more recently scratch resistant “Gorilla glass� to replace plastic screens on smart phones.


Material Substitution

A project team has to carefully consider whether personnel resources and time are better spent on incremental materials substitution tasks, or taking a giant leap to designing and creating a new product using new materials, new manufacturing processes, and a new innovative design. The latter challenge will take a lot more investment, development time, and resources, but the end result is generally a significantly better solution as it can result in a new innovative product that is superior in many ways to the old product. Many times a project team discovers a new innovative material and they are tasked to investigate whether the material can be used to substitute an existing material being used on a current product that the company sells. The reasons for these exploration requests are varied, a cost reduction, better performance, increased functionality, better aesthetics, improved sustainability, or they are simply driven by the urge to update and improve upon existing designs. In the many cases of material substitution programs, the project team attempts to utilize the current manufacturing process, strives to maintain the same shape and form, and have to be willing to compromise changes to the product performance specifications. These hurdles and barriers to implementation can make it extremely difficult for material substitution programs to get off the ground running and ultimately to be successful. In addition, there is also a need for new supply chains, new purchasing requirements, changes in specifications, and a need for new marketing and sales materials.

Another reason material substitution projects struggle is because team members do not know the history of a product or design; they may not know how or why a particular material was selected for the design in the first place. Others are unaware of the evolutionary history of the product, and may not know how or why material changes have occurred from the initial product design through to the present day design. Some project teams may not have the information they need that allows them to assess whether certain specifications and functional requirements can be relaxed, changed, or eliminated. It is important that project teams have access to the right knowledge and data that helps them to circumvent barriers and hurdles and allows them to be successful in the implementation of a material substitution program.

Plastic composites replacing Aluminum

The material Surlyn replaced balata on golf balls

Fiber optics replacing copper wire in data transmission

Flags made with nylon last longer

Bone replacement in hip joints

Silicone-hydrogel contact lenses

Longer lasting polymer bank notes

No more licking stamps - from gum adhesive to self stick postage stamps

Safety matches

By far the most common approach taken by many product manufacturers is the method of substituting an existing material with a different material. Corporate development teams are more likely to work primarily on material substitution projects. Material substitution is carried out for the following reasons: a) b) c) d) e) f) g) h)

Performance improvements, (i.e. lighter, stronger, tougher, and more durable products). Improved health, (i.e. antimicrobial surfaces in hospitals. No VOC paints, etc) Improved safety, (i.e. fire protective clothing for first responders, Kevlar gloves for operators using sharp cutting tools). Security improvements, (i.e. intumescent coatings on safes that protect valuable documents from fire damage). Improved sustainability, (i.e the use of recyclable, or biodegradable materials can help protect our environment). Protection of natural resources, (i.e. controlling scarcity of materials, and the promoted use of rapidly renewable materials). To alleviate difficulties in sourcing, and supply. (i.e. finding alternative replacements of asian sourced rare earth metals in electronics). To obtain cost reductions. (i.e. to allow third world countries to afford products that can improve their lives).

Performed correctly, we find that material substitution is not only innovative, but it can be a game changer. When a company is successful with a material substitution project they can change the status quo of the market, create new intellectual property control, and capture a substantial percentage of the market share.


A new product design requiring a material recommendation

? Consider a design team that is tasked with translating an idea into a product that can be manufactured. In many cases the choice of material is dictated by the design and will simply follow traditional approaches such as using wood for tables, glass for bottles, and steel for food cans. If however, we introduce a discipline to include material innovation into the new product development process, it may be possible to create a product that is better than that which uses traditional materials. At the beginning of the design process the number of materials can be vast, the design is adaptable and fluid and the options are many. As the design becomes more focused and takes shape, the list of material candidates can be narrowed down by using carefully chosen questions that act as filters.

It is necessary to understand that the selection of a material usually comes with knowledge of how the material is formed, joined, finished, or otherwise treated, so processing of the material is an important aspect of the design. Costs; both in the way the material is selected and in the way it is processed in manufacturing must also be recognized. Products must appeal to the emotion of the user, and as such, most people would agree that good mechanical design alone is not enough to create a good product. As we investigate the process of material innovation, it should be understood that just like the design of a product is almost always open-ended, the materials that are finally chosen for the design, are also open-ended, and that there is no unique or correct solution. We should emphasize however that some solutions are better than others, and that the material innovation process proposed in this thesis is aimed at achieving those better solutions. In this thesis, the techniques taught in the NNC IMC class are used to create a process that will give guidance through the gathering of innovative materials from various sources, and to narrow the material choices down to a select relevant few. It is proposed to create a logical selection procedure, and that by using the process, a method of documentation is created that allows any team member to go back and review the process and see how a particular material made its way through to final selection. The random to relevant procedure provides a documented history that recognizes the initial richness of material options that were evaluated, together with the methods and criteria of the filters that narrowed down the material choices to a select few.

Investigation & Incubation

Filling your basket. The number of new innovative materials available to a design team has expanded so rapidly over the last 20 yrs that design engineers can be forgiven for not knowing that half of them even exist. Filling your basket –a large number of materials is required before filtering takes place, and filling your basket assists this aspect of the process.

The everyday thought processes in our minds is influenced by the social environments we live in and interact with on a daily basis. Our character, beliefs and values are all shaped to some extent with our social environment, and the exposure we have in our daily lives to the news we hear, the people we interact with in our communities, our friends, our families, at work, in sports, our education, we are constantly forming opinions about the world we live in.

We see, we observe, we dream, but some people go further before forming opinions, they investigate deeper and more thoroughly, they view information from different perspectives, from different angles, they look for context, and they search for understanding. On the other hand, when some people observe and investigate they fall into the trap of stadium thinking, they find people who think similar to themselves, and they vote with these people, they verify their thoughts with these people. This behavior can be seen on internet forums, people seek forums that embrace what they already believe in, they fall into the trap of saying “see, this confirms exactly what I have been saying all along� it is based simply on interacting with people of like minded thinking and finding justification with others. It is not necessarily the correct answer, just an answer from a like minded community. These people narrowly define themselves into groups and overly personalize perspective.

Where does our perspective come from, the following is a list that allows us to question ourselves on where does the predominant source of our information come from? Where do we immerse ourselves on a daily basis?









It should be clearly evident, that a team which is made up of ‘broad horizon knowledge’ type individuals who hold expertise from all of the various regions of the nation and the world; will generally outperform; and be more successful than a team that is made up from individuals whose daily interests & interaction is only focused at the town community level, because each “broad horizon” member can bring a different perspective and deeper understanding to their team.

How can we translate our IMC learning’s to the material innovation process? Where does a design team start when looking at what materials could be considered for their new product design challenge? Obviously the more materials that are considered at the outset of the project; the more assured the stakeholders are that the team has not overlooked a potential material candidate. Information on material candidates from all over the world is the ideal place to start from if a team is not to overlook a material that could provide the best solution to a new product development team. The team must also be open to using nontraditional materials. Too many times we see teams that have expertise and knowledge in e.g. wood products, avoid materials that they are uncomfortable in, for example they may shy away from considering certain plastics or ceramics, simply because they don’t understand the value that these materials might bring to the design. It is a form of the stadium thinking previously discussed, and can be a hindrance to a team’s success.

We interact with materials at every corner of our lives, from the clothes we wear, the tools we use, it is impossible to not come into contact with materials on a daily basis. For that reason, we can see materials all around us. Information on new materials can be found almost everywhere, Internet sites, the associated press, general news media, magazines, fashion, local community stores, internet media, blogs , the list goes on and on. In fact we are so inundated with materials that we generally do not go outside of our general sphere to look for new innovation in materials, because we believe that if there is any new innovative material, then surely we will hear about it in the normal course of our lives. There is however a large library of information that exists outside of our normal circles. Universities, government research facilities, and large material and chemical companies are continually developing new materials for their specific targeted markets. A new material that is currently under laboratory development could be a game changer once it hits the street, and it is advantageous for a new product development team to know about these “outlier” materials. In some instances a new material that has been developed for one industry may not become ubiquitous to the general public because it provides a competitive

advantage to the one manufacturer that had an investment in developing it, and that manufacturer guards the material and design information closely to prevent competitors from copying it, the last thing these companies want; is to lose their sales advantage to their competitors, especially if intellectual property rights are not protectable. There are a number of material libraries that have emerged over the last 10 years, for example Material Connexion allows design teams to visit their library and investigate a large number of materials that they have placed on display in their facility. The staff at these libraries will also provide consultation, and assist design teams in their material exploration quest. Material data banks exist for specific material categories, metals, polymers, ceramics, wood, glass, etc. and these data sets can delve even more in depth looking at particular alloys of say copper, or properties of a polymer that meet UL Underwriters Laboratory certification, or specific wood species, etc. Mike Ashby’s Cambridge Material Selector is a very useful tool for finding materials that are needed to meet specific engineering requirements. This latter tool also allows for a large material set to be narrowed down using engineering focused design constraints.

Solution & Decision

Once we have gone through the observation and investigation process of material innovation, we can take our basket of materials and subject them to a solution and decision process. For this, we can use the IMC learning’s of Constraints, barriers, hurdles, and roadblocks, and combine them with the IMC tool of random to relevant.

New North - Random to Relevant.

“Synthesis”, - the deliberate and disciplined process of combining multiple perspectives to find new solutions and opportunities. Divergence – focus on quantity, the greater the number of materials considered, the greater the chance of finding a radical and effective solution. At the beginning of the material innovation process, the design team should consider materials from many world sources, different industries, and from different material classifications. Materials that are used in one industry can usually be transferred to another industry with good success. If the materials that are currently used are e.g. made of wood, then the project team should also consider other material categories such as glass, metals, ceramics, polymers, composites, biomaterials, etc.

Convergence – materials are narrowed down and refined using team agreed upon filters and constraints.

How the filtering process works. Once all of the material candidates have been identified, we then begin our filtering process. We begin the process by creating our decision gates, these allow an idea to pass through to the next decision gate or be stopped from moving on. A series of these decision gates eventually filter out a large number of the material candidates down to a small handful that meet all of the filter requirements of the decision gates. The term “filters” is used to describe the decision gates. In scientific circles filters are thought of more in the role of excluding a particular material and generally a material that is unable to pass through a filter that has a certain particle size. Gardeners in particular are familiar with using sieves to filter out large unwanted stones and clumps from their soil In the new North method of ‘random to relevant’; we use filters that are created by and agreed upon by the project team who are tasked with filtering down the large number of material ideas down to a relevant few. These filters are based on various questions, requirements, constraints, specifications etc. Throughout the process, it is possible to record all of the material ideas that do not make it through the filters, and retain those materials for further exploration at a later date. It may also be possible to categorize all of the filter questions, specifications, and constraints, so that some order of relevance is achieved similar to the scientific filtering method of starting with a large mesh size and gradually working down to smaller and smaller mesh sizes. It may be possible that the project team considers the filters they have created for the process and then puts the filter questions into some order of relevance that would assist them in understanding their journey of filtering. At first, the project team may simply want to observe and investigate materials as a means of self education. In such a situation, the materials could be categorized into the industry where they are used most prevalently, i.e. Transportation, Construction, Health, Telecommunications etc. The next step could place the material into a material classification of say either, metal, ceramic, glass, wood, polymer, biomaterial, or composite. A further step could, categorize the material into a third sub classification, i.e. if the classification was metal; the sub classification may classify the material into say aluminum. A fourth step may further sub classify the aluminum into say aluminum-lithium alloys, and so on. At some point it becomes irrelevant to keep sub classifying the materials, at which point, we start using constraints, specifications, and other questions that provide the basis for our filter gates. The classification of materials is simply an educational aspect of the process, it is part of the incubation period, and it does not necessarily provide a means of filtering. This process may be applicable when a new material has been identified and the team wants to get a better understanding of where the new material might fit within their industry. The method of using a process of filtering that is similar to the process used by scientists is of particular interest when the design team wants to show stakeholders a historical record of the filtering journey that they took going into the final material selection stage. Just as in the scientific method of using progressively smaller and smaller mesh sizes, the team can show which materials were initially considered, and at which filtering stage they did not pass through, and why they did not pass through. A material that did not pass through a particular filter stage should have a “description label” assigned to it that states how the material could have passed through the filter stage if it was changed or modified somehow to meet the filter requirements Filters can be questions, or constraints, the filters will educate the project teams on understanding why a particular material is relevant, and what barriers may exist. It also identifies what further areas of development may be required to implement a particular material into the design.

The filters that are used in the random to relevant process are dependent upon the design team. With hundreds of filter questions already identified, there are already too many filters that can be applied to a particular new product development; even so, it is important that a team has access to review all of the possible filter questions that may be pertinent to their project, so it is advisable to create a living document of filters. The filters can be documented on say an excel spreadsheet, or better yet, in a computer knowledge databank, and any new filter questions can be added to the databank list by all of the project teams working within a company. The filter questions should be categorized into specific areas of interest that a new team can identify quickly, and a brief description of why the filter was created would be recorded. It may be pertinent to use a computer program that would submit a random number of filter questions for consideration by the project team just to make sure that the team has covered many different angles and topics. The computer program may have some logic decision tree that helps it identify areas or topics that are relevant to the project team, and then provide more applicable filter questions for the team to consider.

Ideas for filter questions may be based around the following areas: Material cost? Ease of manufacture? Tooling cost? Aesthetics? Classification type of material? Strength of materials? Physical properties of materials? Stage of development the material is in? Value that can be had? Function that can be brought? Is it new?

Is it innovative? Is it readily attainable? Is it rare? Is it too expensive? Sustainability aspects, i.e. rapidly renewable resource? Recyclable, up-cycle, end of life, easy disassembly, cradle to cradle, LEED points? Durability? Energy used, energy saved? Branding? Color stability? Supply chain questions? Does it meet government specifications? Does it meet industry specifications? Life Cycle Assesment? Investment required? Uniqueness? Narrative? Ethical, offensive to animal groups or other groups like Greenpeace?

Surface properties, friction, roughness or smoothness, feel, temperature to touch? Expected life/warranty? Lawsuit risks? Embedded electronics? Patent restrictions, patent opportunities? Is the product an art or design statement rather than a high volume - mass manufactured product? Industrial Design considerations - Pattern, form, color, texture, and consumer appeal? There can be hundreds if not thousands of filters used to narrow down the list of materials. This suggests that a computer program would be best at storing and providing these questions to the new product development teams.

Using constraints barriers and hurdles in the random to relevant process The project team will consider many questions in the process, i.e. will creep be a problem with this material? If the answer is yes or maybe, then it’s probably best to ask another question i.e. can the creep problem of this material be eliminated by a change in the design? Assuming a solution is possible, the team will then make a documented record of the design change required, i.e. assume that a strip of steel can be” insert molded” into a plastic frame in order to alleviate any creep problems. The team then makes a decision of whether the modified material containing the steel insert, now passes or fails that particular filter stage. In the “Innovation Management Certification” course, teams learn to understand the importance of constraints. In certain circumstances constraints at first glance may evoke a negative connotation with them, and might be viewed as a hindrance to innovation. New North Center teaches us to see constraints as a necessary part of the innovation process. The definition of constraints differs substantially depending on the reference source, and the context in which the constraint is being applied. Wikipedia on one hand states that constraint is a factor that works as a bottleneck, restricts an entity, project, or system (such as a manufacturing or decision making process) from achieving its potential (or higher level of output) with reference to its goal. On the other hand, Wikipedia also states that constraints on the productivity side, refers to the positive ideas of focus and optimizing goals by specifying relevant constraints. It is the latter definition that we are embracing, where constraints are used positively to help us keep our innovation focused, within agreed upon guidelines. It is important that constraints are not confused with hurdles, barriers, and roadblocks to innovation. The latter can be worked around, moved, changed, and adjusted, whereas constraints cannot.

In material innovation exercises it is important to use constraints to help filter down the vast number of material candidates into a relevant few. As an example, a project team may at the outset, define a constraint as not accepting any new material candidates that have not been commercialized and sold for at least one year. This constraint may be applicable where speed to market, or risk aversion is critical within a certain industry such as using the material in a medical device. Using constraints within the material selection process is necessary, but care must be taken to understand whether the filter is truly a constraint, not just a barrier, hurdle, or roadblock to implementation. If the filter question is a barrier, hurdle or roadblock then it is necessary to document why the question is being asked, identify it as a barrier, hurdle, or roadblock and document any ideas that can be used to circumvent the elimination of the idea, and thereby let it pass through the filter to the next stage. Just as a sieve analysis filters out different sized particles through a gradation process where large particles are removed first, then progressively finer and finer particles are removed, the question can be asked of whether the filters used in the material selection process can also be processed in a similar manner whereby the larger categories for materials are identified and filtered first, and then further gradation of filters separate materials into different classifications, and sub classifications, until only a few relevant materials are left at the end of the process. As an example, perhaps the first filter categorizes the materials into the particular industries that they are used in. For example, gypsum wallboard could be categorized into the industry class of construction. Styrofoam might be classified into the packaging industry. It might not be possible to categorize some materials, e.g. polypropylene is used in numerous different industries, and so this material would pass through the filter and be categorized in the “all-industries� category. It may be possible that the particular type of polypropylene is a special alloy that is used predominantly in the automotive industry, in which case it might be classed only as automotive.


Everybody has their own opinion on the emotional response of a design, and the materials used in that design. In some designs, people want the real authentic material; whereas others are okay with materials that mimic the real material. There are designs that evoke a reaction where the user questions why a particular material was chosen, should you make a bench out of cold marble, or use a warmer material such as wood? Should high pressure laminate be used as a cover for a laptop case? In many of these examples the materials chosen appear to have been chosen inappropriately, or is the designer trying to evoke some kind of response? Mimicking authentic materials can be done correctly or poorly, when done correctly, it is very difficult to

discern the difference between the real material and the material that it mimics. When done poorly, people are turned off by the material and immediately resort to assigning the material as a cheap knockoff. Nature has a way of improving itself by the process of evolution. All around us are examples of where nature and the biological materials at her disposal are undergoing a process of continuous improvement, nature is continually adapting by undergoing small incremental changes at every rebirth of an organism. Nature is not bound by time constraints, it knows incrementally where it needs to go and to adapt to its environment, but it can only do so through the normal biological processes that it has at its disposal. Organism’s that live and die quickly have the advantage of being able to adapt to the environment fairly quickly, whereas long lived organisms such as animals can take longer to adapt. As an example, scientists use the fruit fly with a lifespan of a couple of weeks, to study effects of DNA changes on biological organisms.


The outcome of the’ random to relevant’ process presents the team with the ultimate reward, the best innovative materials that pass all filter gates, one which will hopefully be a game changer. The chosen materials are then subjected to various validation procedures. In one scenario; prototypes would be made with the new materials and subjected to various testing processes. Finally a transition into the manufacturing phase will be undertaken by the project team.

The team most likely will ask further questions such as‌ 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12.

How is the material shaped? How is the material processed? How is the material finished? What are the anticipated/estimated costs of the material? Do experts agree that the material is the correct choice for the intended function? Does the material possess all of the desired attributes, or have some attributes been compromised? Are some attributes significantly stronger than others? Do people want it? (emotional desirability) Can we sell it? (commercial desirability) Does it align? (Product and Business Strategy) Can we do it? (Technical Feasibility) Can we make money? (Financial viability)

Just remember‌. The material with the most desirable properties is seldom the one which is the cheapest, easiest to shape, join or finish, so tradeoffs between performance and overall cost are taken into consideration. Unfortunately there are always hundreds of questions asked when new materials are being considered, but hopefully in the end, the design teams that incorporate the innovative material selection method into their new product development process are rewarded with identifying a new material that proves to be the ultimate game changer, capturing the market, creating greater sales and profits, and setting the bar higher for competitors to follow.

Having read this thesis you should now be able to answer the following two questions‌‌

1) Is material innovation important? 2) Should material innovation be incorporated into your new product development process?

Appendix Creating a computer software program to perform the material innovation method? Using the New North Center tool of “six sides” a brainstorming session was held on how best to implement material innovation into the new product development process. The following method describes the format used, and the results obtained.

Data, Emotion, Caution, Opportunity, Out of the Box, Process Data – certain observations are identified, but relevant data of the facts has not been found, these observations are as follows: History shows that material innovation has been very successful. Material knowledge is readily available and accessible to project teams. Very few project teams include material innovation in their new product development process. A number of New North Center tools have been identified that allow the material innovation process to be available to any project team interested in using the tools.

Emotion – Project teams may not use the process because they do not understand it; - too difficult to get the materials information. Projects teams will not take the time to fill their baskets or seek out multiple material candidates. Project teams might not be capable of selecting; or agreeing on the correct filters. Project teams will not believe that the process works; or is valuable enough to pursue. Project teams will consider the process to be too complex, difficult, or time consuming.

Caution – The material innovation process may get misconstrued, altered, and not work. The material innovation process may get a bad reputation, and ultimately dropped prematurely. The material innovation process may require too much teaching, or training. The material innovation process may get assigned to one person.

Opportunity – Just one successful outcome could positively change the marketplace, and the company profitability. Management will have a better understanding of why a particular material was ultimately selected. Knowledge of the material innovation process can be improved upon and data can be passed onto future project teams.

Out of the boxThe process/tool can be altered to work with other industries. A software program can be created that makes the material innovation process much easier to use. A daily/weekly “materials” calendar or blog could be introduced to help in filling the basket.

ProcessThe outcome of this brainstorming session resulted in awareness that the material innovation process is probably too complex as a written spreadsheet type process and that a computer software program would make the process much easier to use.

Proposed process for the computer software methodology.

Input material information from all over the world and create a database

Create and Input filter questions from the project teams

material innovation in the new product development process  

A presentation given to the New North Innovation Center in Holland Michigan that looks at a proposal to incorporate material innovation into...

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