Custom sheet materials delivered fast

Materials Direct’s technical director, James Stratford

Materials Direct’s technical director, James Stratford, explains how to simplify the  sourcing of complex, production representative technical sheet material parts


There are many financial and marketing benefits for OEMs who deliver their new products  to customers ahead of competitors. This means that during R&D, product development and early pre-production stages, there is significant pressure on purchasing professionals to get the parts they need as quickly as possible.


This article focusses on e-mech parts, specifically technical sheet materials used for gaskets, thermal interfaces, RFI shielding and electrical isolation barriers. Looking at the design and procurement process, what are the key factors and considerations?


Fast, easy, online access: Some supplier websites in the electronics B2B space now mirror those seen in B2C by supporting self-service selection and ordering. This gives buyers looking to source parts 24/7 access to choose and order that (with a well-designed UI/UX) can be an intuitive and fast end-to-end process. For many types of products, the necessity for buyers to reach out to a nine-to-five manned sales office is becoming a thing of the past.


Choice and availability: If a supplier can offer access to a wide selection of materials, ideally from a choice of well-known brands, there is no need to search multiple supplier sites saving time and frustration, while alleviating the need for often lengthy and paperwork heavy set-up of multiple suppliers. Options shown on websites need to be backed by available stock of at least the most popular product lines and quick access to less accessed lines.


Fully representative parts: Ordering standard sheet materials is sometimes what buyers want—perhaps at the earliest stages of the design process/prototyping. However, as the project moves through the development stages and into pre-production, having 100 per cent production representative parts is an advantage, saving time and avoiding unexpected issues that sometimes happen when stepping from hand-cut parts to tooled versions.


A further consideration is that while simple square, rectangular or circular parts are easy to cut from sheet in small volumes and with adequate repeatability, complex shapes are much more difficult, even impossible to hand-cut. Historically, the challenge with sourcing custom-shaped parts for small quantities created a procurement headache due to the wait and cost of tooling.


Fortunately, state-of-art, computer-controlled machinery can now produce complex parts quickly and accurately without tooling. For example, Materials Direct can manufacture and ship intricate, tooling free, custom parts as fast as 24-hours after the customer has entered their requirement and design information via the website.


Choice, speed, ease-of-use and high availability are cornerstones of a successful, modern self-service, transactional website. An online design interface with advanced manufacturing machines can supply custom pads and gaskets to exact requirements, with no tooling costs and a rapid turnaround which has benefits for those sourcing parts during product development phases and through to full-scale high-volume production.