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Design & Technology

Materials

Electronic products include both circuits and enclosures. A working knowledge of a range of materials is required to be able to design and make enclosures.

Properties of materials

The choice of material will depend upon the properties needed by the product. For example, the enclosure for an outside alarm will need to be waterproof.

Examples of how to relate material properties to design needs

Property needed for the enclosureMaterial property needed
Does the material need to allow (or prevent) electricity from passing through it?Electrical conductivity
Does the material need to allow heat to pass through it?Thermal conductivity
Does the enclosure need to resist scratches and wear?Hardness
Does the material need to be resistant to knocks and bumps?Toughness
Does the enclosure need to be in a certain price range?Cost
Does the enclosure have to work in an environment that could damage it?Corrosion resistance

Electrical conductivity

An insulating material, such as plastic, covers a bundle of conducting materials, such as copper, in a wire.

Electrical conductors are materials that allow electricity to flow through them easily. Most metals are good conductors.

Electrical insulators are materials that do not allow electricity to flow through them. Most plastic and ceramic materials are insulators.

In the diagram of an electrical insulator, the insulating material (plastic) surrounds the conducting material (copper wires).

Semi-conductors

There is also a small group of materials called semi-conductors. These have both conducting and insulating properties and they are used to make electronic components [component: Working part of a product or system. ]. The way in which a semi-conducting material is connected to a power supply determines whether it will conduct an electrical current or prevent it from flowing.

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