Carmakers Copy Human Bones to Build Lighter Vehicles

10th July 2013

Engineering publication, Popular Mechanics, has written an interesting article about bio-mimicry and how it is being applied to save weight from  vehicle design. The article contains insight from Altair’s Jeff Brennan, who discusses how the company has helped automakers save material from their cars by taking design cues from human bones.

We’ve taken a few exerts from the article and placed them below but we would recommend reading the full story at Popular Mechanics.


You might have heard of biomimicry, a catchall term for projects in which scientists and engineers try to copy the talents of plants or animals that nature has honed over the eons. In this case, bone-growth technology, nature is influencing design: Manufacturers are trying to copy bone growth to build more durable structures and lighter vehicles that get better fuel economy. 

“We started to try to mimic how the body grows bone; how does it put down material in response to its environment,” says Jeff Brennan, a biomedical and mechanical engineer and the chief marketing officer with Altair Engineering, a software and consulting company. “[Bones] follow an optimization algorithm,” Brennan continues. “If we can quantify that, we can grow man-made structures in the same way.” 


Optimization of a powertrain bracket


“Imagine the box being full of a bunch of holes, like Swiss cheese, and all the holes are the same size and uniformly dispersed,” Brennan says. “The optimization algorithm says in this one area I need more material, so I’m going to shrink the holes, and in this other area, it’s not very stressed, so I’m going to increase the size of the holes.” After running the simulation anywhere from 10 to 50 times, what’s left is a 3D simulation of load paths and an optimized structure, showing engineers the most efficient way to support a load.

Why the sudden rush for biomimicry? The answer is pretty simple—lightweighting. Fewer pounds means better mpg, and so carmakers are cutting the weight from new vehicles to meet stringent future fuel economy regulations. OptiStruct’s algorithms could help car companies use less steel or aluminum, which means a lighter vehicle.


Read the full story at Popular Mechanics