Expert View

Generative Design for Additive Manufacturing

Daniel Streilein

Additive manufacturing (AM), commonly referred to as 3D printing, is increasingly changing how we design and manufacture products. In its early days, it was mainly used for prototyping, but today there are a multitude of applications for series production, and more are being developed every day.

The expansion of 3D printing farms, the improvements of print quality, the increased production speed and improved material properties have created a wide range of possibilities for AM in series production.

As designers and engineers, this means nothing less than a complete rethink of how we develop and design things. We have always designed products for industrial production, considering the specific requirements of the different manufacturing processes. The aim is to make the best possible use of the special characteristics of each process and to integrate them into the development process. This is also the case with AM.

Lightweight construction, integrated functions, mass customisation (individualisation of mass products), as well as new design freedom through tool-free production are just some of the many advantages that can be achieved through “Design for Additive Manufacturing” (DfAM) compared to established processes. On the other hand, there is also a multitude of additional restrictions that are often neglected in the euphoria for the new. This makes it all the more the task of designers and constructors to internalise the requirements and translate them into viable product.

A significant tool of DfAM is topology optimisation as part of generative design. Based on defined forces and predefined nodes, software generates the required geometries that achieve the best possible stability of the component, while using a minimum amount of material. The resulting organic shapes are often reminiscent of bone structures, which can preferably be realised using the 3D printing process. The influence on the formal aspects of the computer-generated shapes is limited here. Although the user is presented with different variants, the result always speaks the same formal language.

This creates a certain aesthetic of pragmatism. The software becomes the designer and the designer is delivered a optimised component. From our point of view, the influence of design competence is completely missing. We believe that the optimised component is a great starting point, but as designers it is our duty not to leave the design to an algorithm alone. As with existing development processes, it is important to take into account the technical requirements and bring them into harmony with the multi-layered demands of people and brands. To this end, we use the technological advantages of computer-generated forms and integrate them into our design process. This is the only way to create holistically designed products and to ensure that design quality is given.

As a showcase for our expertise in “Design for Additive Manufacturing”, we have given the DLR’s “FLaPPyBot” (Fiber Layup Laser Powered Productivity Robot) a redesign.