In 1972, a letter arrived on Mike Dewey’s desk, a somewhat unusual letter. It was postmarked Denmark. He opened it – it was from a Dr Norman Waterman. He was working for the Danish company Danfoss in Nordborg, Denmark but wanted to return to the UK, and was enquiring if there were any employment prospects at FRI.

Mike continues: “Not an unusual letter then, but as I continued reading the content became much more interesting. Norman began to set out his ideas for a materials selector, that would allow design engineers to select and specify materials and manufacturing methods that would fulfil the design functions of an engineering component.

“It so happened that I was visiting Copenhagen in a couple of weeks’ time to attend a materials conference and so after a quick discussion with Eric Duckworth it was agreed that I should extend my trip to visit Dr Waterman in Nordborg.

As a result of that discussion, an offer of employment at Fulmer was made to Norman and a couple of months later he joined us at Stoke Poges. Soon after a “P” number was raised for the creation of the Fulmer Materials Optimizer.

Norman had been inspired by some of the materials selection techniques devised by University of Cambridge Professor Michael Ashby: “The aim of the Fulmer Materials Optimizer (FMO) was to allow design engineers to select and specify materials and manufacturing methods that would fulfil the design functions of an engineering component and permit economic manufacture.”

Extensive use was made of the presentation of information in tabular and graphical form to facilitate the comparison of candidate materials for a specific application. In particular, Ashby Plots feature one property on one axis and another property on the other.

Initially, the Optimizer consisted of three volumes (*), published in loose-leaf format in ring binders to facilitate updating.

  • Volume 1 Comparative Properties of Materials (Metals, Plastics and Ceramics) and related component Manufacturing Processes.
  • Volume 2 Properties of Metals.
  • Volume 3 Properties of Non-metals – Plastics and Ceramics.

(*) A fourth volume was added later to accommodate special applications, including materials for building and construction, electronics, asbestos substitutes, and others.

Mike Dewey’s father-in-law Norman Saunders was a director of a local printing company in Reading called Osco. They agreed a print-on-demand arrangement, not requiring any large financial outlay by Fulmer.

The Optimizer was sold to customers in the UK and Europe, the USA, Australia, South Africa, China, Japan, and the USSR. The business model was an upfront purchase cost, plus an annual subscription to cover the updating service.

When Norman left Fulmer, the project management passed to Martin Moore, and the editorship to Andy Pye, who had worked extensively on the project under Norman. When in turn Andy left Fulmer in 1980 for a career in technical publishing, subsequent editors included Dr Ursula Lenel and Les Wyatt.

The Optimizer legacy
To try and produce the Optimizer as a published document was extremely difficult. The Internet of course, is perfect for it. A wealth of information is already out there, albeit much of it unverified. The ability to “Optimize” materials selection by accessing all of this data and finding the optimum material for a specific purpose is exactly the type of task that artificial intelligence (AI) tools are designed to do. Who will take on the mantle?