Commentary: Generative Design as a key enabler for efficiency and sustainability

Sustainability is currently a much-debated topic in politics, society and the world of business. Companies are increasingly trying to minimise their product’s ecological footprint and also to reduce energy consumption in the product’s operating phase in order to counteract rising energy prices. Lightweight construction to save resources has become an essential aspect of product development in many fields of application.

However, this is difficult to address with classical topology optimisation due to the high effort involved. With Generative Design, instead, there is a new technology that offers a fast and simple solution: By automating essential process steps in topology optimisation and using fast algorithms, different design candidates can be generated in a very short time.

All the engineer has to do is create the optimisation model in the software and define the requirements and target values. The software then generates the calculation mesh fully automatically and produces lightweight geometries that are immediately shown to the user. This has the advantage that possible errors can be detected and corrected instantly without having to complete time-consuming optimisation runs first.

The optimisation workflow for MSC Apex Generative Design. The user can import data and prepare it for the simulation and finally transfer it to standard CAD format

Hexagon’s MSC Apex Generative Design solution provides the user with all the necessary tools within the software to import existing CAD data and manipulate it for model setup, or to create the model entirely within the software. With just a few mouse clicks, design areas and non-design areas are defined, and a material is specified, as well as boundary conditions such as bearing and occurring forces are added. Once the optimisation is started, the software outputs the first results within a few seconds and usually calculates the final result in one to a few hours. The outstanding feature of Hexagon’s solution is that the geometries are always directly manufacturing ready, feasible geometries that do not require any manual post-processing. And with just a few clicks, the generated structure can be converted into a standard CAD format based on NURBS, where the interfaces are fully parameterised.

MSC Apex Generative Design’s clever algorithms offer significant time reductions to generate lightweight designs and quickly get from CAD back to CAD

The simple operation and fast optimisation therefore make it possible to test different parameters and generate a few different design candidates, for example, to have different materials simulated. Then the most promising design can be selected and further simulated and optimised for production using process simulation software, for example Simufact Additive for metal and Digimat AM for polymer material.

This process enables companies without FEA expertise for optimisation and without specific technology knowledge in the field of additive manufacturing to generate plausible, manufacturable designs. The complex geometries created with Generative Design are much easier to manufacture than traditional designs, saving material and production time. Integrated component designs also reduce assembly time and create highly lightweight components that take advantage of additive manufacturing while being optimally adapted for the conditions in which they will be used. At the same time, additive manufacturing is characterised by very low waste production. Unused powder can normally be completely reused. Only the process-related support structures have to be removed and disposed of. For example, milled components that previously generated 90% waste can be additively produced at a 5-10% waste rate. Additional benefits can be achieved by manufacturing components on site, thus avoiding long delivery distances. The weight savings can also reduce the consumption of energy in operating mode.

Proper Design for additive manufacturing reduces the cycle time in additive manufacturing. Part consolidation and complex, bionic shapes foster lightweight part designs and utilise the technology’s full potential

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