Will Mars on the Rubber Industry: A Look Back 10 Years, Where We Are Now, A Look Ahead 10 Years

Q: With regards to fatigue life prediction methods, where was the rubber industry 10 years ago?

Will There was plenty of great academic work and good understanding of fundamentals, but the methods were only deployed – if at all – via “homebuilt” solutions that could never support a broad enough audience to really impact daily product design decisions.  Simulation methods and experimental methods shared theoretical foundations but they were poorly integrated.  They suffered from operational problems, noisy data and open-ended test duration.  It was possible to analyze a crack if you could mesh it, but the added bookkeeping and convergence burdens were usually not sustainable in a production engineering context.  Mostly, analysts relied on tradition-based crack nucleation approaches that would look at quantities like strain or stress or strain energy density.  These were not very accurate and they were limiting in many ways, even though they were widely used.  They left companies very dependent on build and break iterations.

Q: Where is the industry today?

Will: The early adopters of our solutions have been off and running now for a number of years.  Our critical plane method has gained recognition for its high accuracy when dealing with multiaxial cases, cases involving crack closure, cases involving strain crystallization.  Our testing methods have gained recognition for high reliability and throughput.  Our users are doing production engineering with our tools.  They are consistently winning on durability issues.  They are handling durability issues right up front when they bid for new business.  They are expanding their in-house labs to increase testing capacity and they are winning innovation awards from OEMs.  They are using actual road-load cases from their customers to design light-weight, just-right parts that meet durability requirements.  The automotive industry has lead adoption but aerospace, tires, energy, and consumer products are also coming up.  We have users across the entire supply chain: raw material suppliers, component producers and OEMs.  The huge value that was locked up because durability was previously so difficult to manage is now unlocked in new ways for the first time.  This has been the wind in Endurica’s sails for the last 10 years.

Q: Where do you see the industry in 10 years?

Will: In 10 years, OEMs will expect durability from all component producers on day 1, even for radical projects.  They will expect designs already optimized for cost and weight.  They will push more warrantee responsibility to the supplier.  They will monitor durability requirements via shared testing and simulation workflows.  Suppliers will pitch solutions using characterization and simulation to show their product working well in your product.  The design and selection of rubber compounds to match applications will enter a golden age as real-world customer usage conditions will finally be taken fully into account.  Where design and selection was previously limited by the budget for a few build and break iterations, and low visibility of design options, they will soon be informed by an almost unlimited evaluation of all possibilities.  Where simulation methods have traditionally had greatest impact on product design functions, we will also start to see rubber part Digital Twins that track damage accumulation and create value in the operational functions of a business.  Durability is definitely set to become a strong arena for competition in the next 10 years.

 

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Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

When you have an unmet simulation or testing need, should you build or buy the capability?

There are testing instruments and software packages available in the market – which have been improved through years of R&D and quality management – that can meet the needs of a technical team in their product development efforts. Despite these turn-key resources, we sometimes see a company tasking some of its engineers to build their own.

Why does this happen?

Companies hire smart and creative engineers and scientists with advanced degrees to populate their R&D centers. It is common, and even expected in many situations, for a graduate student to create customized equipment or software as a part of a Ph.D. or M.S. research project. Pushing the boundaries of science and technology often requires such development of devices or code. Also, limited research funding in academia can force students to build their own equipment. When young engineers start their industrial careers after graduate school, they carry with them the mindset of building and programming things themselves. These individuals excitedly offer to create when a new analysis or measurement need arises within a company, and managers like to encourage the enthusiasm of their technical staff.

But, even if your sharp engineer can build a DIY testing device or computer program that recreates the state-of-the-art commercial products created by teams of engineers across many years, is this an efficient and strategic use of the engineer’s abilities? If your company makes tires, for example, then shouldn’t you have your smart people focused on making better tires rather than making testing instruments or software?  What are the labor costs, and the opportunity costs, of your highly-skilled engineer building a piece of testing equipment compared to the price of the commercial instrument or relative to the return you could make on an actual improvement to your product? Unless you are in a position to surpass the commercial solution, there is no competitive advantage in the DIY solution. Once you have created your own solution, who will maintain and support it? Will you be able to keep it up to date with advances in technology? Do you have the capabilities and resources to validate your solution more strongly than the market has already validated the commercial solution?

Through my 15 years of experience in materials research and development in the tire and rubber industry, I have seen several pieces of home-built testing equipment collecting dust within companies. Either they were half finished and abandoned or could only be reliably operated by the creator who moved to another department or company.

There can be circumstances where the needed instrument or simulation product is not commercially available. Sometimes the capability exists in the marketplace, but it is not discovered because the maker mindset leads to a halfhearted search. For customized solutions, you may consider working with a vendor to leverage their expertise in creating the required device or program.

If your analysis and testing needs are in the rubber fatigue and lifetime area, please talk to us before you decide to invest in creating your own solutions. Our solutions embody decades of experience. They are the most competitive and strongly validated solutions you can buy. Endurica has specialized finite element analysis software that predicts elastomer durability for complex geometries and loads, and we offer testing instruments for accurately characterizing the fracture mechanics of elastomers through our partnership with Coesfeld GmbH & Co. KG. We can take you quickly to the forefront of fatigue management capabilities.

 

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Welcome to the Endurica Blog

Welcome to the Endurica blog, written by founder William Mars, Ph.D. These earlier posts (AND MANY MORE) are available on Will’s LinkedIn page:

 

Tire Society 2016: Notes on Advances in Computing Durability –  September 22, 2016

 

 

Strain Crystallization and Durability of Elastomers – August 26, 2016

 

Maximum Principal Stress Damage – August 3, 2016

 

 

Microstructure in Elastomers: Flaw or Feature? – March 26, 2016

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