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How Will Generative Design Disrupt Manufacturing?

Category: Manufacturing Technology By: Travis Egan, Vice President & Chief Revenue Officer, AMT - The Association For Manufacturing Technology Nov 1, 2021


A disruptive technology has the potential to change the dominant operating model of an industry in a discreet way. It can be new technology, new manufacturing processes, new investment patterns, or new sales and distribution channels, to name a few possibilities.

Generative design (GD) is a technology that has the potential to disrupt manufacturing in the next several years and may significantly change the way that many parts and products are conceived of and produced.

Traditional manufacturing vs. generative design
Currently, the development of new parts in manufacturing takes place through a series of discreet, well- defined steps by engineers working in company departments. A process typically starts with customer requirements followed by concepts and draft specifications developed by engineers.

Designs and prototypes are often developed, tested, and revised. The process usually includes many rounds of iterations. It can take years in the case of a new car design, and months for less complex parts or products.

With GD, the workflow process is very different. The engineer inputs criteria for a part design based on parameters such as weight, material(s), size, cost constraints, material strength, or manufacturing methods. Next, software using advanced artificial intelligence (AI)-based algorithms produce a variety of design options that meet these criteria within minutes. The role of engineers is to use their experience and skills to evaluate the various options generated.

Today, GD algorithms are part of the leading CAD programs including those by IMTS-exhibitors Hexagon, Autodesk, Siemens, and several others. To gain insight into the potential of GD to disrupt manufacturing, we spoke to two engineers at Hexagon.

A New Driver
“Traditionally, design has been driven by the manufacturability of the piece; but with generative design, we are now able to make design driven by function and really look at the requirements of the piece and its purpose,” says Dr. Thomas Reiher, director generative design at Hexagon.

“I do not believe that generative design is disruptive yet, but it will become disruptive as soon as it moves away from [additive manufacturing] production and is able to produce solid manufacturing-ready geometries for casting and milling in traditional manufacturing environments,” says Reiher. “This is not happening yet because today’s algorithms and software are still not robust enough to fully replace human engineering intelligence, but I see this happening in the next several years.”

GD Benefits
GD offers many benefits to manufacturers over the traditional iterative design process. First and foremost, it is much faster and therefore more efficient. With its AI-based intelligence, it lets engineers find the optimal solution to a design and/or manufacturing problem based on strategic criteria such as minimizing cost.

It also presents engineers with alternative methods of producing a part or product using different materials. For example, General Motors used Autodesk’s software to create a new seat bracket for an electric vehicle. Their existing seat bracket had eight pieces that were welded together; however, generative design came up with more than 150 alternative designs.

GM chose a design that had only one stainless-steel piece instead of eight. And instead of stamping and welding, the new bracket was produced by additive manufacturing (AM). It was also 40 percent lighter and 20 percent stronger than its predecessor.

“When I think of ways that generative design may be disruptive, I think about its ability to create better solutions and products and a much shorter design cycle,” says Dr. Gereon Deppe, business development manager generative design at Hexagon. “I believe it will affect engineering workflow in a very positive way. It will give engineers more time to develop new ideas and concepts, and they will spend far less time and effort on less optimal designs.”

Many types of cost savings will likely result from the use of GD. For example, direct savings accrue from reduction in the part’s weight and part consolidation, as was the case with the GM seat bracket. Fewer parts, regardless of how they are produced, usually means lower cost, lower inventory, less handling, fewer parts to assemble or inspect, simpler supply chains, and so on.

Combining all these factors, it’s not difficult to see how GD has the potential to change the product development process, the procurement process, and the production process. Although it will not replace the need for engineers, because it is so much more efficient in producing optimal design methods, it will likely change their roles and make them more productive as well.

Start exploring generative design in the Controls CAD-CAM Pavilion of IMTS 2022.

About the Author

In this role he is responsible for membership and product development at AMT and leads the Marketing and Member Services teams.  Travis is a member of AMT’s Strategic Alignment Team and Board of Directors.  Travis has served in a variety of different roles within the durable goods manufacturing markets for over the past two decades.  One of the aspects of this work that he enjoys the most is the opportunity to visit advanced manufacturing technology suppliers and their customers, the discrete parts manufacturers, to learn about the technologies and strategies they have adopted to gain a competitive edge. In his previous career at Gardner Business Media Travis served as Group Publisher for all metalworking/manufacturing brands and Publisher of Modern Machine Shop and Additive Manufacturing magazines. 

Over his career, he founded/launched several successful new media brands including Production Machining in 2001 and Additive Manufacturing in 2012.  This experience has provided Travis with a unique perspective on global manufacturing and has taken him to numerous countries in Europe and Asia as well as across the United States many times over.  He is a graduate of Illinois State University and his bachelor’s degree in Industrial Technology provides a strong foundation for understanding advanced manufacturing technology.  He lives in the DC Metro Area with his wife and 12-year-old son, Finn.  Travis has two older children in college; Kily (17) at North Central College in Naperville, IL and Max (18) at University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, AL.

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