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Why Topology Optimisation Matters for Additive Manufacturing

Today, additive manufacturing offers unprecedented possibilities for the design and production of functional parts. However, to fully exploit the design complexity offered by the technology, design software, like topology optimisation, is needed. 
 
Topology optimisation makes the production of stronger, lightweight parts possible. Today’s article will explore how topology optimisation can help to produce parts with enhanced performance and mechanical properties.  
 

What is topology optimisation?

Topology optimisation is a technique that optimises the geometry of an object using mathematical calculations. Using topology optimisation software, designers can optimise the material distribution in specific places as the software tool analyses the stresses on the shape and removes any unnecessary material from the design.
 
Which areas of the part are to be optimised is based on several requirements, such as load, deformation, stiffness constraints and boundary conditions. In other words, topology optimisation helps to create the best possible structure of a given part.
 
Traditional approaches to manufacturing designs are often limited in the types of designs that can be produced. With the complexity of design offered by additive manufacturing, designing for AM requires a different approach.
 
Using advanced algorithms, topology optimisation software can provide automatically generated designs.
 
Instead of spending a significant amount of time designing a part’s specifications, topology optimisation software simply requires the user to define the parameters for boundary conditions (and specify where supports and loads are on the part), with the software calculating which areas it is best to remove material.
 
The result is a part that is lightweight whilst maintaining its strength and stiffness.
 

The benefits of topology optimisation

Topology optimisation pushes the boundaries of design freedom even further, offering a range of benefits and opportunities for additive manufacturing in the most demanding industries.
 
Additionally, with topology optimisation tools, multiple design iterations can be created for various applications: for example, the ability to maximise thickness in the areas that need it most, as well as reduce the mass of a part by removing the material in areas that are not exposed to boundary loads.
 
A number of industries are already taking advantage of optimised, additively manufactured parts.
 
Aerospace is one of the top adopters of topologically optimised designs, thanks to the benefits of creating lightweight parts, reduced support structures and preserved strength of the parts produced.  Optimised and additively manufactured components prove to be highly valuable in cutting down costs for launching satellites and space vehicles.
 
A good example is that of aerostructure manufacturer STELIA Aerospace, which has used topology optimisation to produce aeroplane fuselage panels. Thanks to topology optimisation, designers and engineers from STELIA have been able to create stronger aircraft fuselage panels, with enhanced stability. There is also an added ecological benefit, with the topology-optimised design leading to less material waste.
 
Another industry to benefit from topology optimisation is medical. With functionally optimised structures, for example, new opportunities for the production of patient-specific, bionic implants with latticed designs are now possible.
 
Since topology optimisation allows additional features such as pore diameter, density, and mechanical properties to be incorporated in specific areas of the implantable devices, it is now possible to create implants with optimal weight and highly personalised characteristics.
 

Topology optimisation: a new approach

Remarkable design freedom alongside enhanced functional performance are only a few of the advantages topology optimisation software offers engineers and designers. While topology optimisation software for additive manufacturing is still in its developing stages and is only beginning to be integrated with the existing 3D printing design software, the sky’s the limit for the powerful possibilities it opens.