In modern industry, choosing the right materials is essential to ensure product quality. Aesthetics or ease of manufacture are not enough — you have to understand the mechanical, physical and chemical properties of all of them in order to choose what’s right for the job.
What are the most commonly used materials in industry?
Different materials are widely used in various industries due to their intrinsic properties. They can be divided into three main groups:
- Metals, in the form of metal alloys. The most common are steel, iron, stainless steel and cast iron. In general, these materials are used in situations where the ability to support heavy loads in relation to the material’s weight is required. This is why they are widely used in industries such as automotive and aerospace.
- Polymers, which are the material that plastics are made from. For example, PVC, polyester, nylon, polyethylene, polypropylene, acrylics, polycarbonates, and a long etcetera.
- Engineering plastics, more resistant than ordinary plastics, often substituting even certain metals due to their beneficial properties. Some examples are extruded nylon, cast nylon, PBT and acetal, among many others.
The importance of selecting the right material for a specific application
Knowing how to choose the right material for each industrial application is essential, as that is the only way to ensure good performance and durability. Each element has its own characteristics, directly influencing its ability to withstand different loads, resist corrosion or tolerate extreme temperatures, among other factors. Therefore, it is essential to perform a thorough analysis of the application requirements and to consider in detail all the mechanical, physical and chemical properties of the material before making a firm decision.
Mechanical properties of materials used in industry
Industrial materials have various mechanical properties, making them suitable or unsuitable for certain functions and therefore affecting where they are put to use.
- Impact resistance: capacity to absorb stress generated by a blow or impact without damaging or breaking the material
- Malleability: ability to be re-shaped or deformed more or less without damage
- Ductility: tolerance for being stretched without material deterioration
- Fatigue: response of a material when subjected to varying forces or loads, although it may sometimes be minor
- Fragility: possibility of breakage when loads or forces are applied to it, or when it collides with another material, force or surface
- Hardness: resistance to scratches
- Plasticity: ability of a material to retain its shape after being subjected to constant deformation
- Toughness: ability to withstand high stress without breaking and/or deforming (absorbing much of the so-called “deformation energy”)
- Elasticity: capacity of a material to return undamaged to its original shape once the force that deformed it has been removed
Physical properties of materials used in industrial activities.
In addition to their mechanical properties, the materials used in industry also have physical properties. As described above, these determine whether they are suitable for one industrial application or another.
- Specific gravity: The ratio between the weight of the material and the volume it occupies. Materials with low specific gravity are light and high means heavy.
- Color: Some materials have a specific color that differentiates them from others. A good example is copper.
- Electrical conductivity: Some metals have good electrical conductivity, such as copper or aluminum, which makes them ideal for the manufacture of electrical components.
- Melting temperature: Temperature at which a material undergoes a state change
- Thermal conductivity: Ability of a substance to transfer heat
- Thermal expansion: Change in size of a material as it undergoes temperature changes
Chemical properties of the materials used in the industrial sector
Lastly, we come to the chemical properties of elements used in industry:
- Corrosion: Triggered when metals come into contact with moisture and liquids, especially salt-bearing ones. Under these circumstances, electrons can pass from one material to another, causing the chemical reaction that results in corrosion.
- Oxidation: Occurs when metals react when in contact with air. In almost all of them, a very thin layer of oxidation develops and the material does not deteriorate further.
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