Generative Design: The Future of Manufacturing

Generative Design: The Future of Manufacturing

Aug. 21, 2018
Sponsored by Autodesk. A discussion with Autodesk's Rob Cohee who believes that generative design is the industry’s answer to moving forward.

As technology moves ever-faster, there is a natural push from everyone to keep up. For engineers, trying to consider all the potential materials and process combinations it is especially tough. Engineers must wield their computer mice with the efficiency and speed that only comes from years of experience and knowledge. This creates a pain-point, as experienced engineers are retiring faster than new ones are entering the workforce. Fortunately, in this rapidly changing era of digital transformation, new trends and technologies are enabling engineers to explore the opportunities of what’s new and what’s next.

Recently Machine Design sat down with Autodesk’s senior manager of manufacturing technical marketing and adoption, Rob Cohee, who believes that generative design is the industry’s answer to moving forward. Below are some key takeaways from our conversation:

What is Generative Design, Anyway?

Generative design is a design exploration technology available in Autodesk’s Fusion 360 that gives you the power to optimize for materials and manufacturing methods so you increase your productivity and focus on innovating. 

By inputting design parameters—such as materials, size, weight, strength, manufacturing methods, and cost constraints—the technology explores all combinations of a solution. This allows designers and engineers to simultaneously explore and validate hundreds or even thousands of design options. They can then filter through the solutions to select the outcomes that best meet their needs.

Generative design reduces materials, parts, and design times for industry. Another major benefit of generative design is part consolidation. When you can input goals and constraints and work with the computer to identify a solution that achieves those goals with a single part vs multiple, you are reducing labor and the time associated with cutting, placing, fixturing, welding and assembling.

Trends Driving Generative Design

Today, there are two trends in manufacturing that are making the timing of generative design technology commercially viable.

  1. Technology progression: 5-axis machines, composite layering, additive manufacturing processes, and other once considered “advanced manufacturing” methods are becoming as common as a Bridgeport. This paves the way to produce designs that would have been impossible or too expensive to produce just a few years ago.
  2. Hyper-connected state: Connectivity lets people send information quickly. Manufacturers want that same speed and ability to respond to business challenges. Previously it was common to stop what you are doing, go to the office, review a change order, approve it, and move forward. Today manufacturers want the same access to information on a mobile device so that they can make decisions in the time it takes to send a text.  

Technology that is in the market today was designed 20 or 30 years ago to solve the problems that were relevant 20 or 30 years ago. Today’s manufacturing technologies must account for technology progression, take advantage of a hyper-connected state, and empower teams of engineers to respond more quickly to customer demands. What does that mean? Autodesk’s software generates multiple solutions by utilizing the power of parallel cloud computing so that their users can use simulation tools to solve for more problems and begin to analyze the results more quickly. The faster engineers can do their jobs, the faster the gears turn, and the more competitive a business becomes.

Training for Generative Design

Generative design is available as part of a subscription to Autodesk Fusion 360, a CAD software package that many engineers are already familiar with. The software is easy to use, but the more knowledge the user has, the better the result.

In manufacturing, time is a factor. Today, many engineers are doing the work of more than one person. Engineers find a solution, or a couple, and run with it. What generative design does is expose more potential solutions to a problem. This saves the engineer time and might present a solution they wouldn’t have otherwise considered. However, it is the engineer’s knowledge of available materials, supply chain availability, manufacturing process, their customers, etc. that will find the solution that will best fit the specific company and application.

When considering design optimization software, generative design should not be compared to or confused with topographical optimization (TO). TO reduces material that often will lightweight a part, but it doesn’t have the ability to consider multiple materials and manufacturing processes in multiple solves. Solutions that provide “process aware” results, meaning the results provided will be restricted to the manufacturing process(es) selected to evaluate as part of the solve. This perhaps the most significant difference between TO and generative design.

Generative design helps engineers explore more ideas in a shorter amount of time to find the best solution based on their expertise, which would not have worked a few years ago. The generative design functionality in Fusion 360 from Autodesk is an example of the new technology that will take manufacturing into the future.

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