10th April 2012 by Royston Jones
In December last year, I wrote an opinion piece for the Product Design & Development website which detailed the current and future uses of optimization technologies and the impact they are having on product weight. As with my previous post, I’ve taken a few highlights and placed them below and I’d encourage you to take a look at the full article. As always, I’d be interested to hear your views on the future role of optimization technology in the product development process.
In our everyday lives, intelligent software, and inexpensive computing have revolutionized our access to information and the immediacy with which it is communicated (e.g. smart phones, social media). This new era of digital technology will also transform the product development process, with engineering data to generate optimum geometry.
Our increasing ability to make products lighter and therefore more portable and efficient largely parallels the evolution of computing systems. For some 25 years, designers and engineers have worked with software that helps them optimize product designs to reduce their weight, but the speeds of computer processors have been the limiting factor.
Optimization has received a boost in recent years from the urgent need to find ways to deal with various national and global crises—the fuel crisis, the economic crisis and the environmental crisis in particular. To meet the challenges that now confront us, we must introduce products that minimize weight while furnishing outstanding performance characteristics. Optimization tools are perfectly positioned to achieve these goals.
Freeform Optimization Generating Structural Concepts
Machine creativity complementing human creativity
Today, optimization software guides the design of products in nearly every sector of production, and a primary reason is that computing power is no longer an expensive barrier. This remarkable software changes and strengthens the way that the designer and the engineer collaborate. Optimization processes can generate dozens—or even hundreds—of alternative design options, balancing light-weighting with product performance. Thus, optimization can inject innovation into the design process, providing the designer with configurations that may never have been conceived or considered without suggestions from the software.
For example, freeform optimization allows the designer merely to describe the space that the product should occupy and to apply the loads that the structure is expected to receive within that space. Optimization software then will “grow” the layout of a basic design that provides good direction for meeting the criteria. Further, this software can suggest forms that are more conducive to a particular material or manufacturing process than those created by traditional methods. At other times, optimization software may be used to evaluate the layout of a specific design, finding ways to tweak or reshape it to make the product lighter while retaining its performance characteristics.
In each of these ways, a design evolves without being burdened by previous design history. Rather, the designer is using machine creativity to complement his or her own creativity.
In an increasingly competitive environment, today’s products are becoming more highly engineered to make lighter-weight and environmentally efficient devices. Designers and engineers no longer can afford to look at optimization simply as a tactical tool; it needs to be more of a strategic part of the process for designing product structures.
Read the full article at Product Design & Development