Designing in an optimal way is of great importance in a wide variety of applications and fields. The common goal for designers, architects, and engineers from various disciplines is to create products and structures that not only meet design specifications, but realize optimum functionality as well. The question is how to begin modeling a new product or part that satisfies both objectives.

The design process may begin with an idea, a prior model, or an archetypal engineering shape. Alternatively, product development might be based on specifications of the space in which the design must fit, as well as the constraints and conditions under which it must function. A design is then crafted that fits within this space and will function as intended. To create the best possible design that meets such requirements, product engineers often utilize topology optimization.

What is Topology Optimization?

Generally speaking, topology is a branch of mathematics concerned with the geometry of an object. This geometry determines the stiffness, strength, and durability of the object in response to an applied force. Optimizing geometry yields a part or product that can achieve necessary stiffness goals, while still meeting strength and resilience requirements.

Topology optimization (TopOpt) is a computerized method that employs mathematical tools to enhance material allocation in the design of a product or component. TopOpt software examines multiple iterations of a design based on a specified design space, functionality requirements, and preset conditions like loads and constraints. In this regard, topology optimization delivers a result that achieves both design specifications and maximum functionality.

While the process of topology optimization has a wide range of applications across product design, it has customarily been used to determine optimal shape and size for conventional production methods or subtractive manufacturing processes. To determine the optimal shape, a TopOpt program automatically analyzes each configuration and removes unnecessary material and areas of low stress. This process repeats until one or more acceptable iterations are presented to the design engineer for verification.  Accordingly, computational reconfiguration reduces the amount of physical testing necessary to achieve an optimal design.

Additive Manufacturing and Topology Optimization

Traditional manufacturing techniques and subtractive manufacturing methods do have the disadvantages of material waste and the inability to produce complex designs with undercuts, lattice-like structures, and hollow parts. With the emergence of additive manufacturing, also referred to as 3D printing, fabricating a complex shape is no longer an issue.

Design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) utilizing topology optimization not only facilitates the production of complex shape geometry, but the development of lighter, more organic-looking parts as well. By leveraging the design freedom offered by additive manufacturing, TopOpt has become a powerful digital engineering tool to exploit the 3D design space.

Combining topology optimization with 3D printing unlocks the capabilities of lattice-like structures to enhance product performance. Lattice structures can reduce the volume of a part while retaining structural integrity and allows for precise control of stiffness within specific regions. Producing lattice structures from elastic 3D printing materials, like thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), is ideal for a variety of applications requiring lightweight parts that are both flexible and strong, such as shoes, orthopedics, and prosthetic components.

Like technical performance, a compelling look and feel is an important element of overall product design. Topology optimization aids in designing for both function and aesthetics. In addition to their mechanical properties and performance, elastomer lattices appeal to both product designers and end-users because they are a fresh way to physically interact with products and their complex geometries can be quite beautiful. TopOpt also facilitates the design of functional textures and aesthetically appealing surfaces.

Topology Optimization at Avid Product Development

Additive manufacturing and topology optimization provide the answer to optimal product design. Even though many computer-aided design (CAD) programs include a topology optimization module, the mechanical engineers at Avid Product Development decided that the addition of a dedicated TopOpt platform would greatly benefit our clients. After a lot of research, Avid decided that nTopology had the best software to accomplish topology optimization.

nTopology software helps uncover areas to decrease material costs and minimizes the time needed to analyze and test multiple design iterations. It enables Avid to rapidly create complex structures with optimized mechanical properties and functionality. nTopology is a means to unify our extensive knowledge of DfAM principles, simulation, and manufacturing data.

The ability to automate optimization of structural characteristics reduces the time to synthesize and fabricate quality parts. Our mechanical engineers and additive manufacturing team work closely together to ensure products and parts achieve design specifications and optimum functionality – accelerating the time to market and creating a competitive advantage for our clients.