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Hardware Product Design

How to Select & Source the Right Materials

After the R&D stage in the hardware development lifecycle, you have a clear vision of what you’re building, the problem it solves, who the target user is, what other products are out there trying to solve the same problem (and how those products were made) and you’ve started iterating on the product design.

A next critical step in the development process is to research the best materials to use for prototyping and then ultimately for mass production.

Best Practices for Choosing Materials

Before you begin prototyping your product, there’s a benefit to thinking about production materials and manufacturing processes early on.

For example, if you’re working with plastics, a lot of 3D printing materials were designed to emulate molding resins. So if you’re able to first find a production resin that matches your product requirements, you can then pick a prototyping material with comparable specs to your production resin.

If you’re unsure which production resin will match your product requirements, you can still test various prototyping materials to assess which comparable production resin is best.

Here’s an example of this strategy in practice:

When prototyping Roost, an ergonomic laptop stand, James Olander leveraged his background in Aerospace Engineering to assess the structural elements of his 3D printed plastic prototypes and then extrapolate those results to understand how a comparable injection molded resin would perform.

3D printed prototype of Roost laptop stand
3D printed prototype of the Roost laptop stand


Here are the 3 main components of James’ workflow:

1. Undertand the critical components of your design

The first step in the process of choosing the right material is to understand which structural elements are most important for the mechanical integrity of your product. For Roost, these were strength and stiffness.

2. Know your materials

In order to choose the right materials, you need to understand the mechanical properties of the materials available to you. Ask for material property sheets so you can compare and then find the right materials to test for each stage in the prototyping process.

3. Validate your mechanical design

Build it and then break it until you get it right.

To Source, You Need a BOM

After finding the right materials to use for your product, you’ll need to source those materials for production. In order to source your materials, you’ll need to create a Bill of Materials, or BOM.

A BOM is a critical document that gets engineers, procurers, and manufacturers on the same page and communicates the specific “ingredients” that will be used to build your product.

Dragon Innovation has a nifty BOM template to help you get started, and we also wrote a post on the key principles for building a BOM here.

Main Takeaways

A strategic approach to materials and component sourcing is a critical component of successful hardware development. If you’re able to start planning early on which materials and manufacturing technologies you might use for mass production, you’ll have the advantage of a more systematic and efficient approach to prototyping. Check out Fictiv's Capabilities Guide for more info.

With attention to detail during this development stage, the final result will be a product that looks and feels the way you envisioned and meets your functional and aesthetic requirements.

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Chefs create recipes. Hardware Engineers create BOMs (Bill of Materials) and SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures).
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