THE ERA OF SPACE-AGE DESIGN: HOW GENERATIVE DESIGN AND ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING WILL CHANGE THE WORLD
SpaceX is preparing for a mission to Mars. China landed a rover on the Far Side of the moon. Israel ALMOST landed their own Lunar craft (sadly it plummeted into the moon), and India is now fully capable of putting satellites in low Earth orbit. We are at the dawn of a new space race but you probably haven't noticed due to manufacturing methods being stuck in the early 2000’s. The industry’s complacency is limiting design from being more competitive, utilitarian and inspiring to our future generations of engineers. Our team has our sights set on designing the future, but the industry’s manufacturing capabilities needs to be better equipped to support the vision for newer and better design processes. As a country, we can no longer afford to wait on NASA for technological progression stemming from space exploration. It is up to the private sector to inspire the next wave of engineering culture and in this blog post we will discuss how generative design coupled with additive manufacturing is instrumental to the future ecosystem of manufacturing.
**Generative Design Has Entered the Chat**
Here at 40 Form, we are incorporating generative design techniques to reach solutions that minimize material usage and costs while optimizing the design’s functionality. We offer this as a complimentary service for our clients that require increased efficiencies in their strength to weight ratios. Some people think we’re crazy for offering this for free but we believe that it's finally time to push generative design techniques into the mainstream. We look forward to continuously pushing the envelope for our customers by providing sustainable design practices that eliminate insignificant design and material space. Our team is dedicated to exploring prudent avenues of innovation that improve both our client’s profit margins and environmental impact. Lightweighting (enhancements to strength and weight ratios for parts) is not something new but the way it's going to be done and the extent to which it’s applied will be subversive to the underlying culture.
In recent years, additive manufacturing (AM or 3D-printing) has seen a momentum shift away from being exclusively a design validation tool for engineering purposes to an end-use production option. This change is mostly attributed to advancements in both material availability and build times in AM processes (especially metal AM). AM methods move closer every day to displacing traditional manufacturing and design processes with the augmentation of serviceable plastic and metal engineering grade materials. There are various other factors driving the AM industry into being a solid contender to replace or further supplement traditional manufacturing methods but perhaps the most important is none other than generative design. Simply put, generative design tools will usher in advancements in the AM industry by widening the scope of functional design.
Looking for ways to increase efficiency is manufacturing 101. Efficiency is the driver of continuous improvement strategies that are constantly being implemented in manufacturing production lines but seldom in the ironclad engineering design cycle. Designers and engineers go through the steps of ensuring every design uses the least amount of material without compromising the structural integrity of a part. Optimizing a design is a process that can lead to tens, or even hundreds of design iterations until you get the solution that meets both your requirements and the manufacturing constraints. This step in the design process can become a vicious cycle of endless improvements but with generative design, you can get design outputs almost instantly. The last time the design industry introduced technology to improve workflow efficiency was when we went from 2D hand-drafted drawings to using CAD systems. Generative design has the potential to do just that- transform the way we think about the design and production cycles as we demand to release products at a faster and more efficient rate while utilizing AM.
But what exactly is Generative Design?
In layman’s terms, generative design tools allow engineers to define the project goals and constraints for the computer to generate an optimized structure through stress, material, and design space algorithms that adapt to your objective. In essence, it gives you the most mathematically efficient design solution to your design requirements. This is done through generating and selecting the forms that best fulfill the defined constraints, a process inspired by natural selection. Integrating this element of automation into the design process saves engineers valuable time in the prototyping and stress analyses phases of production such that traditional methods become much less desirable due to higher material and time costs. So why are we not already using this for every design project? The reason being is that products designed with generative design begin to get increasingly difficult to manufacture through conventional methods as it outputs highly complex and organic shapes; geometry that even a 5-Axis CNC mill would have trouble creating. This is a problem for an industry reluctant on updating their practices to something more modern but as more industry leaders begin to adopt AM options, the apprehensiveness to design such parts will subside over time. Generative design needs assistance to elevate itself to its true potential.
A Match Made in Heaven ;)
Thankfully, recent advancements in the ecosystem of advanced manufacturing has liberated designers and engineers from laborious manual topology optimization and manufacturing procedures when designing parts fit for the future. New techniques in metal, architectural, and biomedical AM coupled with the mass proliferation of desktop printers in 2012 have indicated a wave in the industry that have AM skeptics and enthusiasts thinking about design and manufacturing in a more additive way. Critics were waiting to see how 3D-printing would revolutionize manufacturing but the answer never came. Not until recently have they put theory into action and it's all thanks to generative design. The symbiosis between generative design and AM naturally leverages itself as a manufacturing technology that aims at reducing waste, producing iterative designs, and streamlining the product development cycle. By pairing resourceful design optimization software with resourceful manufacturing systems, AM processes can become the most viable platform for production as the market demands ever more robust and lightweight parts. 3D printing and designs that look like they came from a different galaxy are finally getting the respect they deserve.
Where is Generative Design Being Used?
Lightweighting is a pivotal step in the design process that is used in areas where performance is very crucial. Every pound that can be shed off a part can drastically help save money in industries that demand the best weight to strength ratio performance. It currently costs $10,000 to launch one pound of payload into Earth’s orbit which is no wonder why NASA reviews every design iteration before launching anything into space.
Industry leaders are taking notice of the competitive edge AM brings to the market when using generative design software as part of their design processes. General Motors is currently using generative design to develop parts that are lighter and stronger than the standard parts they've used in various car models. GM was able to consolidate a bracket assembly for seats composed of 8 parts in to just one part by using generative design technologies. Companies that can adopt AM into their production lines will notice a shift in culture that fosters more innovation in their engineering practices.
Design flows, manufacturing constraints, small scale production economics, product strategies, and design labor capital all see increased freedoms as generative design and AM disrupts the status-quo. In the time it takes to conduct Finite Element Analysis on one CAD model, generative design software can construct hundreds of designs that better satisfy both the functional and manufacturing constraints of the part. The challenge has always been where to incorporate additive manufacturing as a useful end-use manufacturing process and with the help of generative design, we are seeing the abilities of 3D printing turn from potential to actual performance.
Up to this point we’ve discussed how a few of the industry leaders are experimenting with the advantages of generative design and AM but now we will take a look into two elements that can drive them into a more subversive experience with advanced manufacturing techniques.
#1 Education: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
The proliferation of AM processes and generative design tools in the manufacturing industry has even prompted educational institutions to prepare for the future landscape of design and manufacturing. M.I.T understands the important tandem between AM and generative design which is why they now offer an online course called “Additive Manufacturing for Innovative Design and Production”. The course is geared to help design and manufacturing professionals develop & implement additive solutions into their current workflows by providing participants the skills required to advance their industries. The MITxPRO course utilizes cloud based CAD and generative design programs in FRUSTUM and Onshape to provide participants a hands-on approach to familiarize them with designing for additive manufacturing or DFAM as its generally known. Courses like this will set the precedent for AM solutions not only in the industry but in engineering departments around the globe. We’re now seeing major CAD software companies like Dassault Systèmes and Autodesk adopt generative design tools into their more popular programs like Solidworks and Fusion 360- CAD systems used in a lot of major university engineering programs. As more students and engineers come across generative software earlier in their careers, we will see a transformation in the way we think about design in the near future. Generative Design will guide additive manufacturing into new industries as opportunities for innovation grows and the technologies are further embraced by not only the manufacturing industry but by educational institutions as well.
#2 Money, Money, Money