In the era of additive manufacturing, fabrication is more flexible than ever before. Add generative design into the process, and you have an unprecedented innovative and concise outcome.
Generative design is a process of design aided by the horsepower of computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning to generate concise designs based on constraints and performance parameters. Such constraints may include manufacturing methods, materials, and other variables; the input then generates designs and permutations of designs.
It's important to differentiate generative design from topology optimization. The latter begins with a computer-aided design created by a human being and is susceptible to some degree of human bias, which has limits. This approach incorporates loads and constraints imposed by the project specifications and requirements.
Generative design is more automated. An idea is generated by computation and then a highly optimized model is produced—a step above that which is human designed—with no need to rework or re-enter data nor design further.
Unique and Efficient
The fulcrum of generative design incorporates a flare of nature and biomimicry. By creating products, systems, and other designs modeled on biological entities and processes, the fruits of generative design raise the potential of new products to an entirely new level. Aesthetically this levitates designs not only with new appeal to the eye, but also with great capabilities.
In addition to such aesthetic appeal, generative design introduces new possibilities that lead to a very efficient approach to manufacturing. This is made possible by right sizing the materials used, not wasting much material, time, and process for the fabrication and manufacturing of the final design once it's approved and accepted to move forward.
How Is Generative Design Being Used in the Real World?
When Volkswagen Innovation & Engineering Center California wanted to flex its capabilities and tacitly showcase its technology, they utilized generative design to retrofit the iconic classic 1962 VW Bus with modern technology. They applied generative design to redesign, with panache, the vehicle's wheel rims, wing-mirror arms, and other parts.
“From a designer standpoint, I have to say, it just looks cool,” said Andrew Morandi, senior product designer at Volkswagen Group of America. “It’s absolutely a totally new aesthetic and something I believe we’re going to start seeing more of in new concepts and new vehicles moving forward.”
In another example, generative design was put to work to redesign a vehicle's engine control unit (ECU), an electronic fuel-injection control system that determines the required fuel supply for the engine. Designers went to work with generative design and modified the ECU without sacrificing any performance. In the case of the ECU, they maintained the specifications of the ECU's heat-dispersing properties while achieving a more compact and lightweight configuration. They were able to achieve this in a shorter time interval, from start to finish, thanks to the benefit of generative design.
“I can draw on my experience to visualize a shape that disperses heat well,” said Akira Okamoto, a project assistant manager of product design for DENSO, a firm that utilized generative design to come up with lighter, smaller, and overall better designs. “However, in a lightweight design, there are fewer pathways for drawing off heat, which reduces the heat-transfer efficiency. I thought I could use generative design to create parts using new shapes that are lighter but still retain heat-dispersing properties.”
Generative design isn't just used for product design and pure additive manufacturing applications. It also helped structure designers to create efficient and compact housing in Japan, without sacrificing other advantages of living in such a small space. The same idea was applied to Autodesk's facility in Toronto. Using generative design, they took input from some 250 employees, with many quirks and requests related to how they work and function; their generative design model came up with a whopping 10,000 solutions for them to choose from.
Generative design is the epitome of technology at work to create designs with efficiency and aesthetic appeal that incorporate many different capabilities that would simply not be available with traditional approaches to design. This is especially welcome in the emergent age of additive manufacturing and an overall reduction of the total time spent from concept to design.
Changing the Engineering Approach with Generative Design
Innovative and disruptive designs ordinarily take time. They incorporate trial and error, with an expected learning curve, as a well-designed solution approach. With generative design, the power of computing is smartly put to work using artificial intelligence, algorithms, and machine learning, to create new possibilities, new innovations, and new designs that stand to change the face of engineering design in our new world.