We’ve been using computers as a tool in design for decades now—first to automate the drafting process, then to create digital models, inform them with data, and simulate outcomes. But thanks to advances in both software and hardware, today computers can actually help us be creative. One system is called generative design, and it’s already transforming how and what we make and build.
Pardis Mirmalek, a BIM manager at Woods-Bagot, led an important class at AU Las Vegas 2018 on this subject, Generative Design: What Is It and How Will It Transform Our Industry? We also had a chance to talk with her 1-on-1 about generative design and the ways it’s changing the creative process in architecture. “There is a partnership between us and the machine,” she says. “And a collective intelligence that raises the level of our design and the products that we deliver.”
“CAD is supposed to mean Computer Aided Design. But if you think about it, we have never truly used the computer as an agent aiding us in design, only as an agent aiding us in documentation. With generative design, this is the first time in history we can use the computer to truly aid us in design.” –Pardis Mirmalek, BIM Manager, Woods-Bagot
With a generative design system such as the one featured in Fusion 360, the human designer defines the problem and establishes the requirements, then turns the computer loose to generate solutions. “It’s less about doing the manual design iterations, and more about setting the vision, the goals, what fits our needs best,” says Mirmalek. “Then the computer, with its massive computing power, goes through hundreds and millions of design iterations.”
Solving for Multiple Problems at Once
Mark Davis, a senior researcher in the Office of the CTO at Autodesk, has helped to pioneer generative design as a technology, and continues to help push its possibilities. He took to the Theater stage at AU 2018 to share his experience helping NASA JPL use generative design to create a concept lander that can travel to the moons of Saturn and Jupiter.
To accomplish a mission like this, the lander will need to perform complicated functions in temperatures far below zero and withstand radiation levels thousands of times greater than on Earth. It will need to be made from materials that have been proven durable enough for space travel. And it will need to be as compact and low-mass as possible, since it will need to travel 365 million miles through space before even beginning its on-site work.
A big part of what made the project so groundbreaking was the way the teams pushed generative design in new ways, solving for multiple problems at once, including manufacturability. “We were able to demonstrate that a single problem definition could be used to optimize output for additive metal printing, 5-axis machining, as well as a new process—casting hollow structures from 3D printed forms,” said Davis. “I’m convinced that we’re at the beginning of a renaissance in the availability and capability of design tools,” says Davis.
Collaborating with Your Computer
Working with generative design enabled the JPL team to iterate rapidly—turning around new designs in 2-4 weeks instead of the typical 2-4 months required for human-only design processes. And that begins to show just what’s possible as we integrate generative design tools into our processes. “We as engineers can’t do this work by ourselves,” Davis said. “It’s simply too complex. We need the best of what humans bring, the intuition of a team working together, and what computational science can contribute.”
Mirmalek agrees. “Generative design enables us to divide the tasks between us and our machines and do the part we’re best at. So we set the goals, we set the vision. That enables us to explore all the possible solutions out there, instead of just a dozen.”
Want to learn more about generative design, from practical tips and tricks to profound explorations of the possibilities that lie ahead? Here are a few AU sessions to get you started.
The research, design, and engineering of a wireless ambulatory EEG headset presents many challenges. It needs to be adaptable to a range of head sizes, comfortable, durable, and functional. In this AU London 2019 industry talk, Nina Gray and 2 co-speakers share how generative design and image/form-capture tools were essential to the creation of the device, and show you how to apply CAD tools to directly benefit quality of life.
Is generative design going to change your role in your field? Let’s start at the beginning. Join Pardis Mirmalek for a discussion on the basics of generative design, its foundation, how it’s transforming our profession, and the latest tools and technologies in the field.
For an unmanned trip to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, NASA JPL’s experimental division is using generative design to create a more effective, efficient lander. Raul Polit-Casillas of NASA JPL explains how, working in partnership with Autodesk, his team was able to reduce the mass of their lander design by 30%, while designing for proven manufacturing processes trusted for space flight, such as casting and milling.