29th June 2012 by Royston Jones
It’s interesting where examples of innovative applications of optimisation technologies turn up as the significance of light weight design becomes a greater priority for everyone. One of my colleagues was recently at 39,000 feet travelling back to the US from a business trip in Germany and came across a Channel 4 documentary presented by Stephen Hawking on his in flight entertainment. Episode 3 from the “Brave New World” series explores how technology in the 21st Century is changing our lives.
One aspect of the programme explored the advancement of ALM (Additive Layer Manufacturing) or 3D printing as it’s commonly referred to. This is a process by which a component is generated through the selective addition of material, compared to traditional manufacturing processes such as machining, forming or moulding, all of which carry significant investment in tooling or carry the cost of significant material wastage.
One design example that was presented in Hawking’s documentary was an aircraft nacelle hinge bracket. This caught my colleague’s attention as the geometry of the titanium bracket manufactured by EADS looked very much like it had been topology optimised – an everyday activity at Altair ProductDesign. He was indeed correct as it was a component that one of my UK teams were involved in developing and the development process had actually been presented at Altair’s UK Technology Conference in 2011 and is available to download here.
The marriage of topology optimisation and ALM will be an important one. ALM has the key benefit of being able to manufacture almost any geometry without the constraints imposed through traditional manufacturing processes. This means that topology optimisation tools can be used with much more freedom to explore the design space and provide design solutions with material located in the exact load paths required to maximise the efficient use of material requiring little or no compromise to satisfy a set of manufacturing constraints. This will facilitate innovation and lightweight design as engineers strive to reduce product weight and minimise environmental impact.