Oct 18, 2016 | By Andre

Autodesk has been a standout when it comes to corporate ambitions toward the new wave of 3D design and manufacturing for years now. Whether its with design suites or flirting with their own 3D printer, they seem focused on the overarching big picture that is the future of digitally assisted manufacture.

So its no surprise that they are venturing full on into the world of generative design, a concept that they have been investigating in parallel with the likes of sports apparel powerhouse Under Armour and others for some time now.

When I first heard of the concept of generative design I was quickly brought back to early AI simulators from decades gone by. The idea then was to create intelligence not based on the intuitive or abstract thought processes we humans are capable of but instead based on a sort of trial and error or evolutionary method to progress based on a high volume of similar attempts (most of which are destined to fail).

For demonstration purposes, the idea is that with traditional design you start with one person and one computer to use everything she knows to produce a product. While this approach has worked for millennia just fine, generative design takes the processing power of modern computers to create 100s, if not 1000s of competing iterations of a design (based on the human’s rules and blueprints) to create what some might consider the ultimate in design.

Autodesk succintly notes that with “generative design, there is no single solution; instead, there are potentially thousands of great solutions. You choose the design that best fits your needs.” This means that the user dictates the stresses and physical requirements of any design as well as the material and method used for manufacture and the software generates as many possible outcomes (often using a skeleton, lattice approach) all while the software highlighting the strengths and weaknesses present in each iteration.

It is ultimately the advent of additive manufacturing and 3D printing that makes this new approach of design possible. The complex lattice structures often look more organic than mechanical and wouldn’t be practical to make with traditional subtractive methods of production.

While exciting in its own right, there is no reason to think this generative design approach can’t be implemented into already existing products and Autodesk is fully aware of this. In their introduction to generative design they breakdown four methods of how generative design can be used.

First off there is Form synthesis. This is an approach where designers input goals and constraints and the software runs its AI algorithms to produce a wide range of design alternatives for the creator to select from.

There is Lattice and surface optimization, which applies lattice structures in an optimized way to already existing components to produce lighter, stronger and ultimately more efficient parts.

Then there is Topology optimization. This is approach reduces weight of existing parts by automatically removing material not necessary to the function of the part all while matching or even exceeding the design requirements.

Lastly we find Trabecular structures. In this case the software generates and distributes tiny holes (pores) through solid materials to mimic bone structures for medical implant related processes.

As mentioned, Under Armour is taking advantage of this process in making their shoes more efficient. But other companies such as Airbus and Lightning motorcycles are getting an assist from Autodesk to create as efficient as product as possible as well. These processes save time, boost creativity, save money and ultimately create incredibly efficient geometries. It’s a win win across the board really (nifty infographic worth checking out)

When it comes to 3D printing, there have been many articles written about how the technology needs a silver bullet or “killer app” to push its use fully toward the main stream for mass adoption. And while there may not be a 3D printer out there yet today that can do it all, the scope that generative design offers might be the killer app relating to the additive manufacturing space.

Just the thought of being able to apply this design approach to almost any already manufactured product conceived since the beginning of human ingenuity gives me goosebumps. Sure, its not always necessary to reinvent the wheel, but when all it takes to do so is toss some variables into an evolutionary design system and see what it comes up with makes the thought of reinventing the wheel worth while.



Posted in 3D Design



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