Materials Direct

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How Material Direct works

One-stop shopping, rapid ordering and delivery - meeting the needs of millennial engineers

In industry as well as in our personal lives we want quick, easy, selection and rapid delivery. Websites that offer products from multiple, leading suppliers can save search time and then intuitive online interfaces can speed selection and delivery - Amazon and its ‘Prime’ service is evidence on the largest scale. The same philosophies apply in areas as niche and specialised as technical materials for the electronics and lighting sectors where customer needs and expectations are just as strong.

We all want to complete tasks quickly and effectively but the younger age groups, perhaps unsurprisingly are the most demanding in terms of online patience. The speed and the convenience of the Internet has had an interesting impact on our expectations, with for example, one study indicating that the youngest working age groups have an attention span of less than ten seconds. This doesn’t only mean that pages need to load quickly, be clear, concise and logical and site maps need to be intuitive and straightforward to navigate, it also demands that any transactional processes online must be slick and easy – obviously not sub ten seconds, but certainly without any barriers that may cause users to quickly give up and go somewhere else for their requirements!

Materials Direct is an early example in the B2B electronics sector of a company offering a high-speed, easy-to-use model that lifts many ideas from prominent B2C sites. The company has a value proposition for supplying customers with a wide choice of 100% custom, precision cut parts without the need for tooling. In the case of Materials Direct it is for what can broadly categorised as ‘technical materials.’ These materials –widely used in the electronics assemblies and especially in the rapid growth LED lighting sector – perform functions including electrical insulation, thermal interfacing, adhesion of parts and assemblies, environmental gaskets, light diffusion & reflection and EMI shielding.

Materials Direct is filling a gap in the market where previously customers have had to go down one of two imperfect routes. The first is to use wholly inadequate and unrepresentative crude hand cut parts, or the second, to pay and wait for expensive tooling to give precision parts, that may end up being re-specified if design parameters change as a product design evolves.

The need for speed
Three key demands are synonymous with new product design in the electronics (and any other) sector, they are: speed, also often referred to as time-to-market, ease of use, and the need to minimise costs. These can  often be conflicting wishes as sometimes the way to hurry a new design through from concept to launch is, to be simplistic, to ‘throw money’ at it. Needing to tool and then wait for custom parts in the development and prototype phases of a project conflicts with the need for speed and keeping costs under control.  So Emech designers really welcome a scenario whereby these issues are all addressed effectively. With Materials Direct’s approach customers can get parts that are, in terms of appearance, function and performance, exactly the same as they would get for volume production. The have consistent quality and repeatability from piece-to-piece, without the burdensome investment in time and money, for tooling.

The Internet is a valued tool for all and perhaps more so for millennial engineers who have not really known a world without the ‘www’; in fact for almost all of us it is hard to remember how we go things done before its inception. It has given the potential to speed-up most aspects of business including finding and ordering parts such as technical sheet materials.
Modern day engineers don’t want to be hampered by ‘old school’ problems such as waiting for tooling, which slow the progress of their project to production where it can begin repaying the initial R&D investments made. For that reason they welcome initiatives that overcome this, and if they are enabled in a completely ‘self-service way via the Internet – then even better.

The choice in one place
Having to search for and then visit and navigate multiple supplier sites for technical sheet materials takes time; there are many companies in the sector and there is overlap between what types of end applications they can support – time to trawl several sites is a luxury design engineers don’t generally have. So consolidating the offerings of the leading companies in the industry in a single location has big benefits. Materials Direct includes and can make custom parts from materials from big name suppliers such as 3M, Du Pont and Laird. This consolidation of a niche sector of the electronics market combined with an advanced and fast custom parts service is something quite new and mirrors successful and highly beneficial examples in the B2C world.

The method
As has been mentioned, speed and simplicity are crucial when sourcing parts for prototype or early production run builds of electronic equipment. Materials Direct’s user interface for sourcing custom technical sheet materials has been broken down into four clean, logical steps that can all be completed online without the need for human intervention from the supplier side meaning waiting for a phone to be answered or ordering parts out of regular working hours are not an issue. Firstly, users obtain a quote by entering the overall external dimensions of the part required, selecting a material, entering a quantity and finally choosing desired delivery date or profile. Then, unless the part needed is a basic square, circle or rectangle, a PDF or CAD file of the part is uploaded via a simple user interface. The site software then confirms all details and allows the user to place their order and make payment. Part manufacture then takes place and goods can be despatched in as little as 24 hours if the need is urgent.

To tool up or not tool up? – that is the question

Historically, in the case of sheet materials for gaskets, thermal management solutions and other related applications, prototyping has been addressed by hand making parts or crudely modifying standard parts. This is mainly because of the time and excessive cost associated with manufacturing tooling for just a handful of parts, the design of which may very possibly have to change several times through the product design cycle.

Hand-fashioning prototype parts is also time consuming and the results are not truly representative from an appearance and performance point-of-view of what will ultimately be used. This can cause serious problems and severely limit ‘proof of concept’ at crucial points in the design phases of a project.

With advanced tool-free manufacturing such as that utilised by Materials Direct, it is quick-and-easy to make small quantities of completely representative parts without incurring tooling costs. Such an approach is extremely cost-effective for prototyping and even small batch production runs.  In addition, fully representative parts take a huge amount of the risk and uncertainty out of product development and can significantly shorten the design cycle by avoiding re-spins of parts later in the program.

Ultimately though, it is also important to be conscious that for applications that will reach significant volumes, there will likely come a point where the need for a sustained high level of supply will mean that it becomes sensible for reasons of continuity of supply and economics, that an alternative, perhaps multi-part tooling approach is taken.

Avoiding the pitfalls of downtime with rapid replacement parts

When a machine goes down and a line stops or an operator in the field can't work, the rate at which costs can mount up is alarming. That's why getting replacement parts quickly is a must. If those parts are custom or even worse - discontinued due to the age of the equipment, then the problem is accentuated. That's where, in the case of sheet materials for gaskets, thermal management of reflective applications, tool-free, quick-turn custom parts can save the day.

The severity, impact and cost of equipment failure and downtime does not relate to the cost of the part that has failed. For example, the failure of a gasket worth just a few pence can have just as serious an impact as a motor costing many hundreds or even thousands of pounds burning out. That’s because both result in the same problem – downtime, lost production and potentially lost revenues.

Obtaining parts to satisfy the maintenance, repair and overhaul requirements of old equipment or to deal with obsolescence can be a real challenge. If tooling were used for the original parts – perhaps die-cut tooling in the case of sheet material based parts - it may be old, damaged or have just worn out; it may be geared only for the manufacture of 1,000s of parts when just a handful are needed. And perhaps in a worst case scenario, it may have even been discarded by the part supplier; it is not uncommon for this to happen (and indeed is often written into contracts), especially where the tool may have not been used for some years and is taking up expensive space in the supplier’s factory while generating them no revenues.

In this situation, and so long as a drawing exists, tool-free manufacturing – in the case of Materials Direct this means computer programmed profiling – can provide the ideal solution for customer needs. Parts can be made in just the right volume to solve the problem and put a few into stock to satisfy any future failures. In addition, with Materials Direct’s rapid 24/7 online service, downtime is kept to an absolute minimum so that customer production or productivity is not too adversely affected and customer’s customers do not start looking for alternative suppliers or try to make compensation claims for failure to guarantee continuity of supply or service!

Grasp the digital advantage

Digital manufacturing is rapidly emerging in the electronics sector as a solution for both new product development and for maintenance, repair and obsolescence needs.It allows items such as thermal management, shielding, gasket and reflective mate rials to be specified, ordered and shipped rapidly and efficiently, 24 hours-a-day. Materia ls Direct offers just such a service, aiming to provide a fast and convenient way for.buyers in the electronics engineering sector to source precision, custom-cut technical materials from leading suppliers.

 

Self-service sourcing

For some, this fully automated approach to sourcing bespoke parts is a new concept, from which many questions may arise. Not least: is there really an appetite in the electronics industry for more of a self-service purchasing experience compared to more traditional approaches?

 

The answer is yes. The electronics industry, like others, is experiencing the globalisation of design and manufacturing capabilities, with different time zones and different native tongues. The resultant requirements are hard to cover with a centralised or regional nine-to-five service. This means there is a definite service and economic benefit behind always open intuitive portals for sourcing custom parts and components. Where fast time-to-market is key to leadership, being able to order parts 24/7 with rapid delivery for prototyping has big benefits.


Small quantities
But can such services manage new product introduction, where volumes ramp from prototype to production levels? Historically, in the case of sheet materials for gaskets and therma l management solutions, prototyping has been addressed by hand making parts or modifying standard parts; mainly because of the time taken to manufacture tooling and the associated cost for just a handful of parts.

Unfortunately; hand-fashioning prototype parts is time consuming and the result is not truly representative, from an appearance or performance point-of-view, of what will ultimately be used.

With advanced tool-free manufacturing it is quick and easy to make small quantities of completely representative parts, without tooling costs. Such an approach is ideal for prototy ping and small batch production, however, there will typically be a volume level where it becomes more sensible and economic to invest in tooling. This provides the best piece part cost and ensures that manufacturing
can keep pace with demand.

Supporting MRO
When it comes to managing obsolescence, maintenance, repair and overhaul, obtaining parts for older equipment can be a challenge. Tooling may be worn out, or it may be geared towards the manufacture of thousands of parts, when just a handful are needed. In this situation, and so long as a drawing exists, tool free manufacturing, such as Materials Direct's computer programmed profiling, can provide the ideal solution.
www.materialsdirect247.co.uk

With the rise of digital manufacturing, bespoke parts are much more accessible. Materials Direct managing director, James Stratford, takes a look at the benefits of self-service sourcing.

Managing Director, Materials Direct,
James Stratford

Automotive efficiency

Materials Direct has provided prototypes to an Automotive manufacturer enabling the cooling of the laser in their headlight design. It was reported to MD that the weight saving in the heatsink design due improved efficiency in the interface has enabled the technology to work without further design iterations.

Spaceage Technology

Materials Direct has successfully put its materials into space! A non-silicon product with low volatile condensable content T-Pad6500 (6.5W/mK thermal conductivity) has been selected to cool sensitive electronics in a space application in the USA.

Lighting the way ahead

Laird Technology was selected as the supplier of choice for a road tunnel project using their high end thermal Gap filling T-Flex 540 to cool a metal backed pcb. The extreme high performance meant the temperature of the LED Semi-Conductors could remain well within their operating limits even on the highest ambient temperatures and low air movement inside the tunnel.

Cooling down costs

Thermal Tape from Universal Science helps to “secure” business for long pcb production. Universal Science is a manufacturer of very long pcb’s for LED lighting applications and the use of Bondline 700 thermally conductive very strong adhesive tape means the customer does not have to use mechanical fixings in their High Bay lighting design. It is reported that the customer has saved over £27 per fixture in not having to screw the parts to their heatsink.

Themally efficient street lighting

LED street lights use Gap-Pads from Henkel (formerly Bergquist) to cool their pcb’s. Used on the back of an FR4  pcb the board is thermally connected to its heatsink.

Get a quote

Get an online quote now. Simply specify the external dimensions of your part / gasket. Choose the material manufacturer / product tell us how many and select a leadtime

Upload Drawing

Upload a 1:1 .pdf or CAD file of your required part/gasket unless it’s a simple rectangle / square / circle

Calculate

Approve your quotation and image of the drawing you have sent to us then place your order

Despatch

Once payment is received for the parts we will manufacture and despatch in as little as 24hrs