NX Module Adds New Generative Design Capabilities to Venerable MCAD Platform31 Mar, 2017 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin
Frustum and Siemens PLM Software join forces to bring topology optimization technology into the product design and manufacturing solution.
A new partnership, announced this week, will enable designers to apply generative design technology from Frustum while working in the NX platform from Siemens PLM Software. Frustum, whose Generate cloud-based solution came on the scene last year, will provide NX users with topology optimization for additive manufacturing via a plug-in module.
This development is the latest in a concentrated effort by Siemens to build end-to-end additive manufacturing solutions. It also nudges generative design — the use of software to automatically create multiple design iterations that meet a particular set of requirements — a little further into the mainstream design world.
Topology optimization is a type of generative design technology that determines the most efficient use of material, while still meeting goals set by the designer. For example, topology optimization software can trim away unnecessary material and reshape support structures to create designs for aircraft components that are lighter than their traditional counterparts, but just as strong and rigid — or even more so.
The beta testing group had strong representation from industries that value weight reduction, including aerospace, automotive, and motorsports. But the appeal of generative design capabilities reaches far beyond those companies, according to Jesse Coors-Blankenship, Frustum CEO. “Anybody that’s interested in design is going to be interested in experimenting with some form of generative design … it’s very broadly applicable.”
Generative design can produce more options in less time than a human can, and can also identify design possibilities that traditional workflows may miss. “Designs will be more complex, and it will also be faster design process,” predicted Coors-Blankenship.
This technology is growing hand-in-hand with additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, because many designs created through topology optimization are impossible to craft via traditional manufacturing methods. Indeed, Coors-Blankenship expects the broader adoption of additive manufacturing in the next few years to be a “strong catalyst” for the implementation of generative design workflows.
From the Cloud to the Desktop
The new topology optimization module for NX functions similarly to Frustum’s Generate solution: it automatically creates multiple iterations of a design that meet constraints selected by the designer (such as material type, cost, strength, etc.). “It’s the same technology as Generate, plus extra manufacturing constraints and the latest version of our geometry kernel,” explained Coors-Blankenship.
Unlike Generate, however, the new module runs its optimizations locally rather than in the cloud. Coors-Blankenship hopes that through the NX integration, Frustum can address a larger portion of the market, including those for whom cloud-based software is a barrier to adoption. The local computing arrangement does mean that the optimization speed is constrained by the limits of the user’s CPU, he noted.
In addition, instead of multiple optimizations running in parallel in the cloud, only one local optimization is conducted at a time. However, it’s still a fairly fast option that’s quicker than traditional finite-element analysis (FEA), said Coors-Blankenship.
Another difference is that the new module is fully integrated with the CAD software. As a result, it offers users more manual control to choose features they may want to include in an optimization — such as specific hole types — and inform how the geometry is created. “It’s a benefit of being integrated in the NX platform,” said Coors-Blankenship.
Inspiration vs. Utilization
For NX users, the Frustum technology is “a huge improvement on what they used to have,” according to Coors-Blankenship. In the past, they were limited to “cruddy-looking” optimization output, he explained; the geometry could serve only as a template or an inspiration for creating a CAD design. “Now [with Frustum technology], they can get manufacturable output, made possible by our kernel,” he observed.
Generating fully optimized, 3D-printable designs reduces the costs associated with part redesign, supports, and post-processing, Frustum reports. But because the optimization module is integrated in NX, users can employ the CAD solution’s Convergent Modeling technology to further edit or refine the results of any topology optimization study, if desired.
Because these types of studies are typically conducted by stress analysts and not designers, Frustum focused on making the technology easy to use. “We sought to make it more broadly usable by the designers,” said Coors-Blankenship. Extensive training is not required; it takes only about half an hour for experienced NX users to get started using the topology optimization module.
To embrace generative design, however, designers will need to learn more than simply how to operate the software. “To design this way requires new skills,” said Coors-Blankenship, who observed that we will see a lot of experimentation as more designers start out on this path.
Fostering Future Developments
Credit for the collaboration between Frustum and Siemens goes in part to Frontier, a next47 partner program that supports 3D printing, robotics, and augmented and virtual reality initiatives. According to Siemens, next47 is an independent investment unit that was created last year to consolidate the company’s existing startup activities and “help support start-up companies with innovative, disruptive technology solutions.”
Although the NX plug-in is a first for Frustum, it’s not likely to be the last. Is a module for another Siemens product in the works? “I think you could anticipate something along those lines,” said Coors-Blankenship, although he could not discuss specifics at the time of our interview.
And Frustum has more projects “under the hood,” said Coors-Blankenship. “Look out for more generative design tools from our company in the future,” he advised.
The price for Frustum’s topology optimization module for NX will be announced soon.