Generative Design Powers Additive Manufacturing
Have you ever wondered that while some technologies like smartphones, electronics and artificial intelligence are getting astonishingly complex and futuristic by the day, there are some that haven’t changed for decades or may be even centuries? Why is technology advancement in the space of furniture manufacturing, construction industry, and mechanical parts used in cars and homes so slow paced? Some obvious reasons could be the mass manufacturing methods used in production and the time available for design. However, things are changing and the good news is that with the use of innovative technologies, these methods are set to change profoundly.
Wondering how? Let us take a look at the image below to understand this better using three models of a chair – only that they are based on different design techniques.
This is where Additive Manufacturing comes into picture.
Generative Design started off as an art form that evolved into serious engineering design mechanism to generate near optimal design solutions. Most of this was driven by an increase in computing power and use of mathematical optimization and evolutionary optimization algorithms.
Many companies have started looking at generative design as the future of mechanical design because of the extremely efficient structures it can be used to create, which otherwise are difficult to generate using conventional methods of product design.The computer generated Model 3 was created by a technique call ‘Generative Design’, which is a method in which a product design is generated by a set of rules or an algorithm, normally by using a computer program.
Generative Design is good but not good enough
Generative Design holds a lot of promise for the future of manufacturing with the efficiencies it is capable of driving but what about the inability of the conventional subtractive manufacturing techniques to create such intricately designed objects. Well, we mean it just doesn’t take a block of wood to carve out a 3D model of the chair. Also, creating molds for polymer extrusion are expensive and turning metal on a lathe for such a creation seems next to impossible.
Enter Additive Manufacturing
Also called 3D printing, Additive Manufacturing is a technology that has the ability to handle the intricacies of generative designs and make them real. However, 3D printing too has some short-falls as it takes a lot of time to 3D print objects using the current technology.
3D printing of a moderate sized object like a chair could take a day or two and this large an investment of time prevents mass manufacture of such objects thus lessening their viability as consumer products. But the good news is that things are changing and with emerging new technologies, 3D printing process has been catapulted to higher levels of speed (almost 100 times than conventional).
Here’s a video that describes a 3D printer by a company called Carbon 3D. The printer prints objects much faster and things that took hours could now be printed in minutes.
A number of engineering giants are also participating in progressive Additive Manufacturing. Boeing recently introduced an additively manufactured part – a Receive Antenna Deployment Actuator (RADA) cage – that can fly on a satellite for Boeing. GE, which owns more than 300 patents in this space, is actively investing in Additive Manufacturing. GE engineers produced a model of a GEnx jet engine using an advanced 3-D printing technique called direct metal laser melting. With other industry giants such as Siemens and Philips entering the fray of additive manufacturing, corporate R&D is taking additive manufacturing to the next level.
The world of patents and the bigwigs
A deeper look into patent arena reveals that things are progressing in these technology areas. There are about 5,085 patents filed worldwide on Additive Manufacturing, clearly demonstrating its sheer potential. United Technologies, BASF, Stratasys, General Electric, Posco, BAE Systems, Hamilton Sundstrand, Han Sang Kwan, Samsung, Alstom Technologies, Honeywell, and Siemens are the leading patent owners in this space. However, the patent space for generative design usage for additive manufacturing is still nascent and murky. We did find a number of patents (about 80) that use mathematical, genetic or evolutionary optimization for Additive Manufacturing (One level deeper of a search would reveal more). Some example to cite can be Siemens owned patent DE102013207656, which describes a process of accelerated production of objects by means of generative manufacturing. EP1486317, co-owned by Boeing and Pratt & Whitney, describes optimal dimensional and mechanical properties of laser sintered hardware by thermal analysis and parameter optimization. Another similar patent, US2010174392, is co-owned by Hamilton Sundstrand and Pratt & Whitney.
While the future holds much promise, for now one can only visualize the revolution set to be created by the combination of intricacies by Generative Design and their mass manufacturing (remember the Model 3 chair?) with incredible advancement of Additive Manufacturing. Quite a sight that would be!
(Featured image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fdecomite/8215690357)