autodesk harry zhong stanley black and decker

Autodesk launches generative design tool for Netfabb 3D design software

Autodesk has released a beta version of a generative design tool for its Netfabb additive manufacturing software, with a view to a full launch early next year. 

Generative design is a term to describe an automation functionality within 3D design software which enables users to set parameters such as materials and physics and allow the software itself to conjure up a design.

Some might describe it as automated or autonomous design – or even sorcery and magic – as it uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to generate structures within the software. 

autodesk harry zhong stanley black and decker
Harry Zhong, technical lead in the Stanley Black & Decker Breakthrough Innovation group, reviews concepts for the crimping tool attachment

Greg Fallon, vice president of simulation, explains Autodesk Generative Design in a bit more detail.

“Generative design technology takes goals set by a designer or engineer,” says Fallon. “For example, size, weight, strength, style, materials, cost, and any number of other criteria, and then uses cloud computing to create a massive number of design solutions.

“Using intelligent algorithms based on machine learning and advanced simulation, it produces smart design solutions that can be difficult for today’s designers and engineers to discover and model efficiently.

“The designer or engineer then identifies and adapts the right solution as desired. This process leads to major reductions in cost, development time, material consumption and product weight and gives our manufacturing customers the ability to design and engineer in brand new ways.

“Autodesk Generative Design is not just topology or lattice optimization alone – it’s a massive step beyond that.

“While optimization focuses on refining a known solution without any notion of manufacturability, generative design helps the engineer explore a whole cadre of functional and manufacturing design options.

“With Autodesk Generative Design, a designer or engineer can not only discover a new solution, they can then bring it to life using additive manufacturing tools.”

autodesk stanley crimper
By using generative design and additive manufacturing technologies, the Breakthrough Innovation team was able to shave more than three pounds off the crimping tool attachment, reducing the weight by more than 60 per cent

Autodesk has been researching the software for a number of years as part if its Dreamcatcher project, and initial customers include aircraft manufacturer Airbus and apparel maker Under Armour.

Fallon also described an Autodesk project in partnership with Stanley Black & Decker which resulted in the power tools manufacturer being converted to the “superpower” of generative design.

Stanley’s breakthrough innovation team was looking to design a hydraulic crimper lighter and yet keep it as strong and durable as before. Normally such tools weigh about 15.4 lbs, including the crimping attachment. Using the generative design application, the team was able to reduce the weight of the crimping attachment by 60 per cent, or more than 3 lbs.

He says: “After examining thousands of combinations of materials and processes, the service generated many options from which the innovation engineers were able to decide on a path forward, satisfied that they had explored all of the options – not just the three or four or even 10 options that engineers may have considered if they used traditional design tools.”

Frank DeSantis, vice president of the Stanley Black & Decker’s Breakthrough Innovation group, says: “The generative design capabilities we can access with Netfabb are almost magical. It’s not brute force engineering. It’s elegant. You define a problem and you get a solution set unlike anything you’d predict.”

DeSantis adds: “The results of the wire crimper project ensure we’re going to be applying the incredible combination of generative design and additive manufacturing that Netfabb offers to an array of other products we have in development.

“This is clearly the future and that’s what our Breakthrough Innovation group is all about.”