To complete this summary of opportunities for analysis and modeling in materials research, ways in which modern computational capabilities might have a direct impact on manufacturing technology are considered. The combination of science-based numerical simulations with new methods for storing, retrieving, and analyzing information ought to make it possible to optimize not just the properties of specific substances but entire processes for turning raw materials into useful objects.
Materials considerations are important throughout the life cycles of most products from design, through manufacturing, to support and maintenance, and finally to disposal or recycling. Significant improvements in quality, reliability, and economy might be realized at all stages of this cycle if quantitative models of processing and performance could be used at the beginning.
Consider, as a simplified example, the design of a turbine disk for an aircraft engine. Under ordinary conditions, the designer starts by attempting to achieve given performance specifications in a way that satisfies a few basic constraints, perhaps minimization of weight in the present circumstance. Fabrication engineers are then asked to see whether the part can be produced. If problems exist, or if the cost appears excessive, some design modifications may be required. Finally, maintenance and inspection specialists are consulted, but it is usually too late by this stage in the procedure for their needs to have a major impact on design. This serial approach emphasizes mechanical aspects of the design at the expense of production and maintenance considerations.
A far better approach is to incorporate all or most of these considerations into computer simulations carried out during the initial stages of the design process. To start, one might examine possible processing paths in order to optimize metallurgical microstructures for different properties in different regions of the component. In the example of the turbine disk, the microstructure could be optimized for creep strength at the rim and for low cycle fatigue and ultimate tensile strength in the bore. The same detailed simulations might also address issues of technical feasibility and economics. Models that relate microstructural properties to processing paths might also be used to examine manufacturing options and even to optimize for ease of maintenance.
It is quite likely that such an integrated approach to materials design eventually can lead to small but significant changes in technology that, in turn, will produce large improvements in performance and cost over the lifetimes of products. It is also possible, because complex problems in systems analysis are involved, that the results of these integrated simulations