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Global automaker General Motors (GM) is taking a big leap forward in automotive design to imagine a future of lighter, more efficient, and customizable cars. With a combination of generative design and additive manufacturing, the company can explore new designs and efficiently make unique components to customize vehicles. Since 2016, GM has launched 14 new vehicle models with a total mass reduction of more than 5,000 lbs., or more than 350 pounds per vehicle. Most of the weight reduction is a result of material and technology advancements.
“On average, there are 30,000 parts in every vehicle,” says GM Director of Additive Design and Manufacturing, Kevin Quinn. “We’re not looking to print all 30,000 pieces. Instead, we’re being very realistic. We’re focused on production opportunities where we can provide a business value for GM and for the customer. For us, it’s not about what you can do; it’s about what you should do.”
GM used generative design technology and additive manufacturing to develop a new seatbelt bracket.
If additive manufacturing were a door to the automotive future, generative design would be the key to unlock it. “Generative design is a way for us to explore different design solutions for parts and components of our vehicles by using the cloud and artificial intelligence to combine the engineer and the computer,” Quinn says. “By getting them to work together, we can come up with part-design solutions that would be impossible to generate with either the computer or the engineer working on their own.”
With this model, engineers establish component-design goals and constraints—including parameters such as materials, manufacturing methods, and budget—and then input them into generative-design software. The software then uses an algorithm to analyze and evaluate dozens of design permutations and recommends an optimal solution.
“Generative design paired with additive manufacturing can be completely disruptive to our industry,” says Quinn, who adds that the auto industry historically has been impeded by the limitations of traditional manufacturing tools such as mills and injection molds. For one, such tools can fabricate only very simple geometries.
Also, traditional tools are as expensive as they are inflexible, which makes experimentation cost prohibitive. Generative design and additive manufacturing can support infinite design solutions with minimal capital investment.
In an initial proof-of-concept project, GM and Autodesk engineers applied generative design technology to reconceive a small, but important vehicle component –the seat bracket where seat belts are fastened. The software produced more than 150 valid design options based on parameters the engineers set, such as required connection points, strength, and mass.
The team zeroed in on a new design, whose organic structure no human could have imagined. The new seat bracket is 40 percent lighter and 20 percent stronger than the original part, and it consolidates eight different components into one 3D-printed part, another major benefit of generative design.
GM plans to utilize generative design on future product designs, and as part of a multi-year alliance focused on innovation, GM and Autodesk will collaborate on projects involving generative design, additive manufacturing, and materials science.
With our long-standing expertise in additive manufacturing, we see incredible opportunities for generative design. The seat bracket is just a small demonstration of the potential mass and strength improvements when we apply these technologies to many of the 30,000+ parts in our vehicles.
—Kevin Quinn, Director of Additive Design and Manufacturing, General Motors
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