Product Design

solidThinking Inspire Takes Structural Concepts to New Level

25 Jun, 2013 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson

Version 9.5 further simplifies design optimization for engineers, product designers, and even architects.

As an editor, I would be thrilled to have access to a software program that could take a subpar or outdated article, apply a few guidelines specified by me, and generate specific ideas about how to improve the content. Alas, no such software exists.

Designers — specifically, those developing structural concepts — are more fortunate. solidThinking Inspire software takes an existing design or a new 3D sketch and generates an optimized material layout within the package space using the loads as an input. It helps design engineers, product designers, and even architects to quickly create and investigate structurally efficient concepts. “solidThinking Inspire changes the way product designers and structural engineers approach design,” says Andy Bartels, program manager for solidThinking Inspire. “It enhances human creativity by proposing designs that can be evolved into a finished product and easily exported to your preferred CAD tool.”

New features in solidThinking Inspire 9.5, launched this week, allow users to apply Inspire to an even larger set of designs than before and make better early-design decisions, Bartels added. The software is easy to learn and works with existing CAD tools to help design structural parts at reduced cost, development time, material consumption, and weight.

What’s New: solidThinking 9.5

Important new features in solidThinking Inspire 9.5 are illustrated in the following diagram and video:

Click image to enlarge.


How It Works

Jim Hassberger, solidThinking president, explained that the software allows users to develop and consider various design options at the start of the design process. “You can try a bunch of different things early, when you have more flexibility to make changes,” he said.

Inspire is ideal for redesigning moving parts and heavy cast components, such as those commonly found in automotive or aerospace applications. Using Inspire, Hassberger said, “You usually end up with lighter parts.”

Most Inspire users start with a legacy product model that they want to improve. Using geometry brought in from any 3D CAD solution, Inspire carves out the package space of the design. The user applies constraints such as maximum stress and deflections, maximum stiffness, minimum mass, or type of manufacturing process. That’s when Inspire generates an optimized material layout, typically adding holes or other features to produce a lighter part that meets structural requirements. The model that results is a solid and the file is in STL format — just like models used for 3D printing. Users can bring that file into CAD to use as the basis for new part designs, or simply take the features of the optimized design and apply as desired to the original model.

Inspire’s design-optimization process (left to right, top to bottom): 1. Import CAD model for an existing part or sketch in 2D and push and pull to create solids; 2. Create the package space, representing the maximum volume a part can occupy; 3. Assign materials and loading; 4. See the ideal part (and note that the optimal material layout may not be manufacturable); 5. Control the result by applying optional manufacturing and shape controls; 6. Develop a new part. (Click image to enlarge.)


Designers at the Leiber Group used Inspire to redesign a bracket that connects the axle and air spring of a truck. Using the changes proposed by the software, the designers created a new bracket with a mass that is nearly half that of the original cast part.

solidThinking Inspire helped designers at Leiber Group improve the design of a truck bracket.

Catching On

Inspire is really catching on in the engineering community, Hassberger said. More than 1,000 customers had adopted the tool, and the company has trained more than 750 engineers this year alone. “In the past six to eight months, we’ve seen a huge uptake and interest in it.” Engineers who are not simulation experts can easily learn Inspire and use it to guide the design process, Hassberger added. “They’re just gobbling it up.” New Inspire users typically require just a few hours of training at most, according to the company, and many require none at all.

Approximately 90% of Inspire users are in the manufacturing field, the company reports, but the software is catching on in the field of architecture as well — among professionals as well as academia, “which is always looking for new ways to create beautiful designs that have structure,” Hassberger said. Using Inspire allows building designers to move to more organic shapes that are visually interesting and often make their way into high-profile projects.

CAD Compatibility

“Inspire is an and system, not an or,” said Bartels, meaning that it works in tandem with CAD software, and does not replace it. “Use is not constricted by development of CAD vendors.” Inspire can be used in combination with any 3D CAD product on a Windows or Mac platform.

Inspire is compatible with any 3D CAD solution running on a Windows or Mac platform.

Availability and Pricing

solidThinking Inspire is available as a standalone product ($6,495 single license; $7,995 network) or with the purchase of HyperWorks, the open-architecture CAE platform developed by parent company Altair.

More information about Inspire and a free trial of version 9.5 are available on the solidThinking web site. Available resources include a collection of new videos that offer a tour of the user interface, a review of the latest features added for Inspire 9.5, an overview of how Inspire fits into the product design process, and more, as well as a series of tutorials developed for the Inspire 9.5 release.

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