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Monday, June 26, 2017

“Generative Design” – What’s That?

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light weightingThe term “generative design” has been used in architecture and civil engineering for more than a decade. It is now gaining currency in the mechanical design (MCAD) world. See for example,

Generative Design is a term for a class of tools that create or modify design geometry based on non-geometric requirements or constraints on product performance. In this regard, Topology Optimization (TopOpt) is the poster child. In 2005, Dr. Kristina Shea, who is now a professor at ETH in Zurich, wrote: “Integrated performance-driven generative design systems are aimed at creating new design processes that produce spatially novel yet efficient and buildable designs through exploitation of current computing and manufacturing capabilities.”

In CIMdata’s view, Generative Design (GD):

  • is the use of algorithmic methods to transform requirements into product geometry and design
  • often includes optimization within constraints
  • is not necessarily based on physics (nor on natural organic processes)

So, yes, GD includes not only TopOpt, but also tools like rules-driven parametric CAD and a host of others for optimizing cost, weight, stiffness, strength, natural frequency, and other performance criteria.

This is extremely important, for it takes us out of the current paradigm of creating, and then evaluating, CAD. Rather than asking, “Does this shape meet the requirements?” we are asking, “Which shape best meets the requirements?”

Altair provides a stunning example of changing a fabricated, welded structure to a casting which somewhat reduces weight but substantially reduces manufacturing cost. See:

This is real engineering, not just redesigning a component. It fits, exactly, what Dr. Shea described more than a decade ago.

Similarly, as we have noted before, GM has shaved an astonishing 400 lbs. from the weight of the new Chevrolet Equinox, while retaining all the interior space and vehicle performance characteristics. See earlier blog posting:

Some, like me, believe that this move to Generative Design will revolutionize product design and development. In a relative sense, computing has become infinitely fast and vanishingly cheap, so we can now easily use heuristic, brute-force methods to search for optimums. Also, Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) promises the capability to make parts that were previously infeasible to produce.

Let me know what you think!


Keith Meintjes

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