New Design Optimization Possibilities with Additive Manufacturing
Kyle Maxey posted on October 08, 2014 |

Additive Manufacturing (AM, or 3D Printing) has transformed the way designers think about prototyping and product design… Most CAD tools however, are not fully adapted to this new manufacturing paradigm.

To generate smart product iterations, designers need tools that can suggest optimized parts.  Otherwise, they rely on intuitive approaches to the weight/strength design balancing act, an approach that can’t deliver fully optimized designs.

Design optimization software like Inspire from solidThinking offers algorithm-driven suggestions that can help designers make lighter weight products that retain the necessary structural strength. 

Dramatic Weight Reduction With Design Optimization Software 

Chris Williams of Empire Cycles has been working in the bike industry for decades. During that time he has built many bicycle components using additive manufacturing techniques. 

Chris’ experience has led him to set his sights on a more ambitious project -- leveraging additive technology to build a fully optimized bike.

Chris started by contacting Renishaw, a major player in metal part laser sintering machines. Chris and the team at Renishaw decided that one of Empire’s seat posts would be a perfect first component for 3D printing.

After receiving a model of Chris’ seat post, Renishaw imported the geometry into solidThinking’s Inspire CAD package.  The graphic below sets out the steps that Renishaw went through to optimize Empire’s seat post.

Using solidThinking’s Inspire, Renishaw engineers began generating the most ideal geometry to maintain the post’s strength while minimizing its weight. After only two algorithm-based iterations, Renishaw’s engineers had transformed Empire’s seat post, strengthening Chris’ design and reducing weight significantly. “We took the seat post bracket from 360 grams down to 200,” Chris explained.

Design optimization reduced overall frame weight by 33%

After seeing how using an optimization tool like Inspire could improve his designs, Chris and the team at Renishaw decided to broaden the scope of their project by redesigning an entire bike frame.

"We looked at the main aluminum frame and realized that this component weighed 2100g on its own”, said Chris, adding, “at that point we knew we could create something just as strong while shaving a huge amount off the weight. From there, it wasn’t a big leap to the idea that we could use additive manufacturing to create all of the major frame components.”

After iterating the design for strength and weight, each component was 3D printed.  The engineers found they had reduced Empire’s frame weight by 33 percent. Not only did the overall weight of the component drop from 2.1kg to 1.4kg, but Renishaw’s engineers found that the new frame was nearly indestructible, exceeding the bike industry’s British Standard more than 6-fold.

Advanced CAD optimization tools like Inspire can help designers make big changes to the weight and strength of their models.  When coupled with 3D printing, the optimized geometries can be built in ways that were formerly impractical…or impossible.

To learn more about Renishaw and Empire Bicycle’s usage of Inspire to design the world’s first metal bike frame produced with additive manufacturing, click here 

Images Courtesy of Empire Cycles/Renishaw

Note: solidThinking has paid a fee to ENGINEERING.com for the promotion of their CAD optimization solutions.  They have had no editorial input to this story.  All opinions are mine.  – Kyle Maxey

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