• Tutorials
  • Why Topology Optimisation Matters for Additive Manufacturing

Why Topology Optimisation Matters for Additive Manufacturing

Today, additive manufacturing is far more than a rapid prototyping tool, offering unprecedented possibilities for the design and production of functional components and parts. However, design for additive manufacturing requires software that is able to optimise the design of complex geometries that AM enables. Topology optimisation software is therefore one of the most important tools neede to generate such highly complex designs that are optimised for additive manufacturing. With topology optimisation, the production stronger, lightweight parts is possible, and today’s tutorial will explore how additive manufacturing is embracing the benefits of topologically optimized designs to create parts with enhanced performance.


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 often do not take into consideration the unique capabilities of additive manufacturing to create complex parts that could not otherwise be designed using traditional manufacturing methods. With the complexity of design offered by additive manufacturing, designing for additive manufacturing requires a different approach.

Based on advanced algorithms, topology optimisation software can provide automatically generated designs – so 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 from which areas it is best to remove material. The result is a part that is lightweight whilst maintaining its strength and stiffness.


Next-generation design and structures with topology optimised 3D printing

The obvious power of additive manufacturing lies within its capabilities to create shapes impossible with traditional manufacturing. 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.

A topology optimized design enables the 3D printing of lighter and stronger functional parts, resulting in considerable enhanced performance. 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. Indeed, reducing the weight of a component reduces both the material and time needed for its production. A good example is that of aerostructure manufacturer STELIA Aerospace, which 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.

Aerospace is indeed 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.

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.