Linking Materials Science and Engineering Curriculum to Design and Manufacturing Challenges of the Automotive Industry

Linking Materials Science and Engineering Curriculum to Design and Manufacturing Challenges of the Automotive Industry

Fugen Daver (RMIT University, Australia) and Roger Hadgraft (CQ University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8183-5.ch003
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Materials engineering applications are becoming more widespread, varied and sophisticated due to advances in science and increasing interdisciplinary cooperation. To be able to impart engineering graduates with the required technical background, educators need to update the course syllabus and the program curriculum continuously. Most importantly, in a world of constant change, educators need to develop the right graduate capabilities in engineering students. This calls for new, innovative teaching approaches to materials education. This chapter demonstrates the authors' teaching approach through the design and development of an Automotive Materials course at postgraduate level in an ‘International Automotive Engineering' program at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. To elucidate this teaching approach to materials education, the authors discuss in detail the need to impart an up-to-date understanding of new, alternative materials, the development of graduate capabilities, interdisciplinary systems thinking towards materials education, and the environmental sustainability of engineering materials.
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Materials Engineering courses in postgraduate engineering programs are an integral part of engineering programs around the world. Postgraduate level Materials Engineering courses fulfill a special need to link the fundamentals of materials science learned at undergraduate level to engineering practices relevant to a particular engineering discipline at the postgraduate level.

The Automotive Materials course, which was first introduced in 2008 as part of the postgraduate Automotive Engineering curriculum at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, is a typical example, where the Materials Engineering understandings are imparted to a particular group of professional engineers, i.e. automotive engineers. Tailoring the course content and the delivery methods towards the specific needs of this group has the potential to enhance the relevance of postgraduate engineering education.

Understanding of Materials Engineering is integral to mechanical design and product engineering, which constitutes the core of Automotive Engineering practice. Conventional teaching of materials begins with their physics and chemistry, progressing from the atomic structure through the microstructure to the macroscopic behaviour, such as stress and strain. This approach, whilst scientifically correct, tends to present materials in isolation from the engineering science (e.g. mechanics of materials). As a result, this approach fails to engage many engineering students, who cannot see the relevance of microstructure, chemistry etc. (Ashby & Cebon, 2003).

Design and development of Automotive Materials in postgraduate Automotive Engineering programs must aim to overcome the inherent weakness of the traditional teaching methods by enabling students to make the connection between the underlying physical science of a material and its performance in real-life engineering applications. To be relevant to the current engineering practices and up-to-date with recent advances in science and technology, Automotive Materials course content should focus on niche (and interesting) areas of component design based activities with a concomitant interest in alternative materials. Also, the understanding of Materials Engineering needs to be facilitated by means of experiential teaching and learning approaches where the properties of materials are discussed in the context of particular applications relevant to Automotive Engineering.

In this chapter, several key issues facing educators in designing engineering curricula are identified: development of graduate attributes, a systems thinking approach to materials education, the importance of sustainability of engineering materials, and the necessity of ongoing development of course syllabi. The chapter discusses the design and development of a postgraduate Automotive Materials course at RMIT University (Australia) by providing:

  • 1.

    The course content, including an example module and a relevant case study;

  • 2.

    A student group project on Materials and Process Selection; and

  • 3.

    Assessment methods and student evaluation of the course. It aims to present educators with a pedagogical framework in designing engineering curricula in a rapidly changing world.



The Automotive Materials course was designed and developed as part of the International Automotive Engineering postgraduate program curriculum at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. The course aims to impart an understanding of materials to the automotive engineering postgraduate students. The International Automotive Engineering program recognises the need to increase Australia’s international position as a provider of high quality engineering education, in particular in the Asia-Pacific region where a rapidly developing automotive industry is emerging.

Extensive consultation with research organisations, local and global automotive industries shaped the curriculum development of the postgraduate degree program. Global relevance, work integrated learning, and development of graduate capabilities were identified as required features of the curriculum. Design and development of a core course Automotive Materials for the program complies with program initiatives and responds to the need for a re-design of the engineering curriculum to develop graduate capabilities (King, 2008). The specialised nature of automotive applications and the rapid pace of technological development in the global automotive industry necessitate an understanding of the use of new, alternative engineering materials in automotive engineering.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Life Cycle Assessment: Life cycle assessment evaluates the eco-impact of products throughout all cycles of a product’s life, starting from the extraction of the ore to the recycle or reuse of the products. Materials and manufacturing constitute major components of the life cycle assessment.

Material Index: Material index is another term used for the performance index; it is defined by a material property or a combination of material properties in a materials selection process.

Materials Selection Chart: A materials selection chart is a diagram with one or a combination of material properties plotted on each axis. A logarithmic scale allows all material to be included in one chart. The performance indices and attribute limits are superimposed on material selection charts to obtain potential list of materials that satisfy the requirement set by the problem definition.

Performance Index: Performance indices are derived based on the trade-off between a constraint and the free variable; they characterize the performance of a particular geometry as a function of material properties. Each combination of function, objective and constraint leads to a particular performance index defined by a material property or a combination of material properties.

Active Learning: There are numerous active learning strategies available to the educators of materials science and engineering. This approach emphasizes the importance of ‘learning by doing’ in educating students.

Project Based Learning: A teaching approach where student actively deal with real world problems and challenges; hence they acquire a deeper understanding of the problem with the additional benefit of developing graduate attributes. It is an alternative to teacher-led approach to learning.

Design Requirements: The product/component to be analysed is characterised in terms of: functional requirements, objective of the materials selection process, constraints imposed by the requirements of the application, plus the free variable, which is usually one of the geometric dimensions of the product/component, such as thickness, which enables the constraints to be satisfied and the objective function to be maximised or minimised, depending on the application. Hence, the design requirement of the part/component is defined in terms of function, objective, constraints and the free variable.

Materials Engineering: Materials engineering is about designing, producing and evaluating materials and their engineering applications.

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