Expert Interview: nTopology CEO on Advancing AM Potential with Generative Design Software
07 October 2020
Today, engineers have an arsenal of advanced software tools that help them solve complex engineering problems in additive manufacturing. One such tool is generative design software, which uses powerful computation to produce innovative design variations.
When coupled with AM, generative design helps to lower manufacturing costs, while creating highly complex, lightweight structures that would be difficult, if not impossible, to produce with traditional processes.
To learn more about generative design software, we spoke with Bradley Rothenberg, CEO of nTopology, New York-based company providing engineering software, nTop Platform, both for AM and conventional manufacturing. We discussed what makes generative design crucial for AM, software interoperability and exciting trends in design for AM.
Can you tell me a bit about nTopology?
nTopology is an engineering software company and was founded in 2015. It’s headquartered in New York City in the heart of Manhattan.
In 2019 we launched nTop Platform to empower engineers to design revolutionary products.
Today, our software is used at hundreds of engineering companies by thousands of engineers on their most advanced projects in the aerospace, automotive, medical, and consumer industries.
How does nTop platform differ from other 3D design software solutions that already exist in the market?
nTopology takes a completely different approach to how we represent geometry which is as an equation instead of a BRep or a mesh.
Existing CAD tools were originally built to create drawings of parts, whereas our software is built from the ground up for making parts based on engineering requirements.
The geometry in nTop Platform being represented as an equation allows us to make incredibly complex geometries extremely fast, and then from that ‘design’, we can make a reusable workflow so that if there is a design change required we can modify the equation and the geometry updates with no rebuild errors.
Why are tools like topology optimisation and generative design so crucial to the additive manufacturing process?
Generative design allows the engineer to explore the design space in ways not possible with manual trial and error. It also allows the engineer to explore solutions that may not have been intuitive given their understanding of materials and physics.
nTopology’s approach to generative design allows the engineer to see and manipulate every parameter of the generative design equation. It’s not a ‘black box’ system where you upload some design constraints and download a ‘solution’ with no ability to see what is driving the geometry, or how to modify it.
We believe that generative design is a tool to help the engineer explore and collaborate with, not a one-click solution.
Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) unlocks both new opportunities and challenges. Can you share some tips that can help engineers and designers new to AM start with DfAM?
We recommend getting advice from those that have been through the process of adopting AM.
The industry has gone through a journey from prototyping, replacement of existing parts to actual design for AM, and we see most of our customers have gone through the same journey and are now at the design for AM stage.
It is also important to understand that each process has wildly different design constraints, so knowing the process you are designing for is crucial.
Jennifer Bracken at Penn State has created the GAPS worksheet for laser powder-bed fusion that is a great example of giving a guide as to whether your design is suitable for the process. This covers the geometry, but to make a business case we recommend you get advice from someone with experience.
What applications can benefit the most from combining generative design and AM?
At nTopology, we see the adoption of generative design in several different streams. One is the design of experiments, running scripts to create thousands of designs to then simulate or physically test.
Another is the exploration of surface geometry such as with topology optimization to help balance the tradeoff between the weight to strength or stiffness.
The third case is the creation of material properties through mesostructures whether to mimic bone density in medical implants or optimize thermal properties in heat dissipation.
While some of these can and are used by our customers with other manufacturing techniques, additive manufacturing lends itself best with the added freedom (or constraint) of defining material properties and geometry at the same time.
One of the issues we see in the 3D printing software ecosystem is the lack of greater interoperability. What are your thoughts on that?
We have worked hard at nTopology to play nice with as many software and hardware vendors as possible.
There is no one file format solution to all, but with the complexity of data we communicate to the manufacturing process, we see it as critical to create as frictionless data flow for our customers as possible.
We have adopted the 3MF format which is very efficient in an increasing number of interchange scenarios as well as exporting slice formats such as CLI and CLF as well Bitmap stacks and even CSV which can include information such as laser speed and power.
We also accept native CAD, meshes, simulation data direct from tools such as ANSYS and ABACUS as well as more obscure and custom formats such as voxel grids. And what will become more and more important is we have command line access to connect to tools such as ModeFRONTIER, Python and well, Excel.
Data interchange is very much at the center of everything we do.
Are there any trends in AM you’re most excited about?
We are most excited when we see designs move out of prototyping and R&D labs and into critical end-use parts.
We are excited to see nTopology help unlock the geometry constraints that engineers were facing with traditional CAD systems to realize higher performance products with much greater efficiency.
Finally, we are excited to see the increased adoption of new approaches to design and engineering that address the freedom AND constraints of each of the different processes in AM.
What is on the horizon for nTopology?
We plan to use our recent funding to accelerate the development of nTop Platform and grow our international presence in the AM market and beyond.
While many of our earliest customers did adopt us as their DfAM tool, some of our biggest customers already use us for other manufacturing processes from injection mold design and composite lay-up through to punching millions of holes in a metal plate.
Are there any final thoughts that you’d like to share with our readers?
We would like to thank everyone for all of their support so far, we have had so much great feedback that has directly driven the roadmap for our software development to ensure we help unlock the maximum possible value from their advanced manufacturing processes.
We miss seeing you all in person but if you want to see an update on what we are doing please visit our site as we are constantly hosting quick demos every week, deeper webinars with some of our customers and partners as well as hosting regular DfAM series where we have experts from around the world present on their approach to design for AM.
And finally thanks to AMFG for the opportunity to discuss subjects dear to our heart.