October 13th, 2017
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As Engineers we are all familiar with using simulation driven design techniques. We design, using our knowledge and experience from previous projects, then we typically validate our designs using FEA. Perhaps you need to adjust your design; it may need more material in some regions and you can remove redundant material in others. It is an iterative process and occasionally we may run out of time to optimise the design and go with a solution that is over engineered.

Could technology help us engineer the best form for our structural components?

Recently we’ve explored the market for Topology Optimisation toolkits. We’ve been specifically looking at Generative Design, integrated into Siemens Solid Edge and NX. Within your design environment, you enter your parameters (material, loads, design space, regions to preserve) and goals (material reduction, factor of safety) and the software will optimise the shape of your component. It mimics nature’s evolutionary approach to design – removing material depending on the stress calculated at each node.

This opens up a range of new opportunities within design and engineering. Components can be designed faster and can take on unique shapes that we may not have considered. We can rethink system designs and combine multiple parts into one. Further reducing part, tooling and assembly costs. Design time can be better used considering the design inputs, leaving the computer power, (rather than our brain power!) to calculate the solutions.

This all sounds great but can we still manufacture these components using traditional methods?

Additive manufacturing is the obvious choice for the organic shapes created by Generative Design. With additive manufacturing you have no tooling restrictions, however currently it is primarily suited to applications which can justify the cost; fine detail, low volume applications like Motorsport or Aerospace.

However, with the Generative Design toolkit in Solid Edge you can input settings for your manufacturing method. For example you can add the direction of draw for injection moulding by specifying the ‘overhang prevention axis’. This allows you to benefit from Topology Optimisation without compromising your manufacturing method. Once you have your Generative Design the resulting model can be directly edited in Synchronous to add design details.

I highly recommend you give Generative Design a go – it has been available in Siemens NX for a few years and is now fully integrated into Solid Edge ST10. Just choose one component to optimise and see if it creates new opportunities for the rest of your business.