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Help students gear up for the future with generative design

Jobs of the future will require candidates to develop new skill sets and use technology to work smarter, faster, and more sustainably. Available now, generative design is the technology of the future that will help transform today’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities.

CAD render courtesy of Briggs Automotive Company Ltd.

What is generative design?

Generative design is a design exploration tool in Autodesk® Fusion 360® that goes beyond typical topology optimization with additive manufacturing. Autodesk generative design provides designers and engineers with a full design exploration solution to examine multiple design options, including manufacturing methods and editable CAD geometry. Users can:

  • Consolidate parts by reducing the overall number of parts and components.
  • Reduce the weight of parts and components by using the least amount of material to make the part as effective as possible.
  • Increase performance by designing stronger parts and components.
  • Use cost estimating to compare between the different manufacturing methods.
  • Produce CAD-ready editable geometry.

Explore the possibilities of generative design

See what the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services has to say about the benefits of generative design.

Give your students a head start toward a winning career

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  • RESOURCES. Utilize free learning tools and resources to help your class get started quickly.

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A crash course in chassis-led energy absorption

Designed by: Ronald Heisser | Featured school: Cornell University

It all started at an internship with a physical therapist who had just created a new type of foam roller. Cornell PhD student Ronald Heisser learned that physical therapists in the 1970s used Buckminster Fuller's "tensegrity" portmanteau to describe how the human body was structured; by loosening the tension in our fascia and muscles, massage-based therapy would then restore our proper tensional structure.

"Personally, I found this fascinating and I wondered why more structures were not built using this concept. Our designs should, after all, reflect natural beings like us!" said Ronald.

Ronald took this idea of tensional structures and started working on a better car chassis that would absorb energy in a crash. He believed that tensegrity could inherently provide advancements to dynamic machines like vehicles and robots. Tensegrity structures comprise rigid and soft elements, yet they are inherently compliant. He wanted to make a more relatable robotic structure that would connect groups of rigid structures with variable-tension cable systems to enable more dynamic and environment-adaptable machinery. The new car frame he developed resembles little of a traditional vehicle frame. Winches and cables replace rivets, bolts and nuts. Generative design offered a greater range of options for him to consider for both part and weight reduction. It helped him to nonlinearly think about the structure early in the process, and it was also used to lightweight the entire structure.

With the success of the chassis, Ronald is ready to take his project to the next level. His next steps are to incorporate electronics into an even larger model and add more functionality (powering the wheels, adding steering) to create a safer vehicle.

A natural solution for better car performance

Designed by: Kogakuin University Solar Team | Featured school: Kogakuin University

  • Steering knuckle arm by Kogakuin University Solar Team

A team of students from Kogakuin University were inspired by nature when they set out to create their solar race car. With a canopy that has a similar shape of the beak of a bird and a solar cell that looks like a wing, it is a perfect example of humans mimicking nature to create an innovative, and in this case winning, design.

Although the exterior design is extraordinary, it is the inside that makes this vehicle truly exceptional. The team of students designed and built the hybrid suspension (based on hydropneumatic suspension). The suspension uses both air and fluid for a cylinder and includes two springs that help it achieve nonlinear control of oscillation dynamics. It was so impressive, the team was awarded the coveted CSIRO Technical Innovation Award at the 2019 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge—the world's largest solar car race.

Nature continued to influence the team’s design when they optimized specific parts using generative design technology in Autodesk Fusion 360. Generative design follows nature's approach by exploring all the best possible permutations of a solution through successive generations, until the best one is found. Generative design helped the Solar team reduce the milling time by 1/13 through the simulation process and drastically reduce the weight of the steering knuckle arm by 89%.

Even though the competition is over, the student team continues to use Fusion 360 and generative design on new projects. They saw the value in time saved, improved performance, and the exploration of multiple manufacturing methods and materials. And with nature as their guide, they can’t help but evolve as designers, engineers, and makers of the future.

Putting the brakes on energy inefficiency

Designed by: Resistance Racing Team | Featured school: Cornell University

  • Brake pedal by Resistance Racing

The Shell Eco-marathon is a competition where participants are judged on how much energy their fuel-efficient vehicles use during seven laps around a track. The Cornell high-efficiency electric vehicle team, Resistance Racing, was able to secure a third place win at the 2019 competition with the help of Autodesk Fusion 360—more specifically, the software’s generative design tool.

The team's mechanical lead, who had interned at Autodesk, introduced generative design to the rest of them. After seeing what it could do, they were excited to use it. The goal was to optimize the car parts to help it accelerate to the optimal speed.

"We had an initial design for a brake pedal that was done in traditional CAD. After we realized that we could use generative design to improve the pedal, we were able to reduce the number of components from 23 to 7 and decrease the weight from 550 grams to 110 grams," explained team member Sae Na Na, a mechanical engineering student. “It also allowed us to mount to a non-flat mounting area.”

The generative design process gave them an edge that typical topology optimization could not provide. Because the brake pedal is 3D, to iteratively run optimization on it and manually cut out the non-essential mass would have been very difficult and time consuming. And it was a huge benefit to be able to switch between CNC and additive manufacturing method options, as they were running very close to the deadline and had to re-think the manufacturing method at the last minute because of the required lead times.

Sae Na Na looks forward to bringing her skills to her future career in mechanical design or mechatronics. She is hopeful that this additional design skill will make her more valuable to employers, since it will help her to create better products, in less time, with less cost. And what employer doesn’t want that?

A new kind of door opens up the possibilities

Designed by: Steven Seither | Featured school: Karlsruhe University

  • Door design by Steven Seither

Just because a car has always been designed a certain way doesn't mean it has to stay that way. When student Steven Seither selected the topic for his Master Thesis at the chair for Additive Manufacturing at Karlsruhe University, he decided to try something totally new. Instead of individual doors on the side of a car, Steven's car door concept opened the entire side of the car. Luckily, he was able to work with a leading automotive engineering firm in Germany and use the generative design tool in Fusion 360 to help him realize his dream.

This design concept eliminated the B-column in the car, which made for a tricky engineering challenge, especially for volume production. That’s where generative design came in. With it, Steven focused on parts consolidation as well as weight reduction.

"It helped me to optimize the part in a way no other software tool I’ve used could do," explains Steven. "I started with a sketch, moved to drawing my preserve geometry, and then let generative design take over. It helped me iterate different load cases to validate the design space I input into Fusion 360. And I was able to check for conventional manufacturing methods. With the ability to simulate different materials within one generative design exploration, I was able to check whether the planned metal was stiff enough or if there was a more suitable material."

Steven continues to iterate and improve his design as he finishes his studies. He feels strongly that technology like AI and generative design will be part of the product development process in almost every industry moving forward and that the skills he's already learned will help him excel in his future career. All it takes is a little imagination and innovative technology to make something in a completely different way. When you start seeing cars with no doors and open sides, you'll know who to thank for bringing automotive design to the next exciting level.

Stable and safe, all thanks to sunshine

Designed by: Team Sonnenwagen | Featured school: RWTH Aachen University

  • Trailing arm by RWTH Aachen

Motivated by a fascination with solar technology and sustainable transportation, a group of students at RWTH Aachen University in Germany designed and constructed a car entirely powered by solar energy. In partnership with the university, Team Sonnenwagen Aachen built the "Covestro Sonnenwagen" to participate in an emission-free race across Australia. This race, the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, is a 3,022 km race from Darwin to Adelaide where solar cars compete to win the prize for best overall solar vehicle.

Team Sonnenwagen debuted two years ago with their first car, fully developed with Fusion 360, and won the prize for the best newcomer team. For this year's competition, they developed a brand-new car concept and used Fusion 360 and generative design for parts optimization to gain stability and shave weight. Using Fusion 360, students ran analyses and applied the geometries on specific parts of the car to learn how to alter parts but still maintain the geometry creation. Generative design helped them examine multiple design options and manufacturing methods. They were able to collaborate to design a high-performing, efficient, and sustainable car that could withstand the forces of nature throughout the race. Specifically, they developed the upper rear trailing arm using generative design.

A modern twist on a German classic

A collaboration with Autodesk and Volkswagen

  • Updated wheel by Ariel Jeong

When Ariel Jeong was still a student, she had the opportunity to work with Autodesk and Volkswagen on an exciting project. With a goal to maximize strength and minimize weight, Ariel and the Autodesk team collaborated with VW designers to reconceptualize the wheels of an electric-infused technical showcase vehicle. They used generative design to reimagine an innovative new wheel that matched the modern standard, while also fulfilling the classic VW style.

Generative design technology enabled them to create faster workflows and make better-informed design decisions. They could optimize for different manufacturing methods and materials and run simulations early in the design process. Equipped with the ability to make smarter design decisions up front, Ariel was able to not only design a beautiful new wheel but also create a final part that was 16% lighter than the original. And it took only two months to create, instead of the estimated six months.

When the project was finished, design leads at Hyundai were so impressed with Ariel’s work and her generative design skills that they offered her a position, which she started right after graduation. Learn more about Ariel’s journey by watching the full video story.