Aug 21, 2015 | By Alec

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) engineers Eric Duoss (left) and Tom Wilson use an additive manufacturing process called direct ink writing to develop an engineered "foam" cushion. (Photo by George Kitrinos/LLNL)

While you might think that software giants such as Autodesk are living in the golden years of their business, as demand for good design software has never been higher, they are rightly looking towards the future instead of resting on their laurels. That’s why they have just announced a progressive collaboration with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) with the express purpose of using the latest software innovations to make 3D printable design of next generation materials possible. The first goal? To design and 3D print protective metamaterial helmets.

This collaboration consists of an 18-month Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between the two parties. Specifically, Autodesk Research will give LLNL access to the state-of-the art design software in their possession. Together, they will begin exploring options for applying that generative design software to the 3D printing of advanced material options. These metamaterials – so called because they have properties that don’t exist in nature – have so far proven very difficult to 3D print, despite all their attractive properties.

Anantha Krishnan, associate director of engineering at LLNL, said that he was very pleased with the collaboration, as Autodesk is right there in the maelstrom of high-performance computing. ‘With its extensive cross-industry customer base, Autodesk can help us examine how our foundational research in architected materials and new additive manufacturing technology might transfer into a variety of domains,’ he says on the Autodesk website.

Exploring hundreds of alternate design solutions becomes possible when high-performance computing is paired with novel user interfaces. Source

What’s more, they have already singled out a fun first project to test this technological collaboration. Helmets – used for centuries to protect our skulls – are first on the list to be 3D printed in materials that will ensure an anatomically perfectly fitting solution that will be both lightweight and protective. ‘Helmet design is an excellent example of a multi-objective design problem. There are several constraints such as desired weight, cost, durability, material thickness and response to compression,’ Mark Davis, Autodesk’s senior director of design research said at the press release. ‘Giving the software goals and constraints as input then allowing the computer to synthesize form and optimize across multiple materials will lead to the discovery of unexpected, high-performing designs that would not have otherwise been pursued.’

Some materials exhibit different properties at different densities.

So what can we expect of a metamaterial 3D printed helmet? Well essentially a creation that features multiple characteristics in a single print – so both the necessary cushioning element and the exterior protective shell. This will require a careful study of the behavior of complex material microstructures to predict how they dissipate energy. While an ambitious goal, both Autodesk and LLNL are optimistic that it can be done. ‘By combining the advanced additive manufacturing techniques at LLNL with our ability to compute shapes made of complex combinations of materials, we stand to find breakthrough designs for the helmet,’ said Francesco Lorio, Autodesk distinguished research scientist. 

What’s more, Lorio said that he hoped that this helmet will pave the wave the way for the optimal use of other metamaterials. ‘We envision a future where any product can be composed of bespoke materials, appropriately distributed at the micro and macro scale to optimally satisfy a desired function,’ he says. Through the application of these goal-oriented design tools, the two partners expect to analyze performance options of very large sets of structural configurations of material microarchitectures.

Eric Duoss, a materials engineer and the co-principal investigator at LLNL, believes the agreement could lead to new design methodologies with helmets as just one example. ‘The difference in the design method we are proposing versus historically is that many of the previous manufacturing constraints can be eliminated,’ Duoss said on his institute’s website. ‘Additive manufacturing provides the opportunity for unprecedented breakthroughs in new structures and new material properties for a wide range of applications.’ While none of these options will probably become available for us desktop users, this research project definitely bodes well for 3D printing technology on the whole.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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