Jordan Burgess

Engineering graduate, EF 2014 cohort

(200px tall x 600px wide beam supported on the left hand edge and with downward force applied to the bottom right.)

You are watching an optimisation algorithm come up with the stiffest design completely automatically.

The outcome is greatest stiffness shape possible for a given amount of material. And amazingly it’s a nuanced truss that isn’t far removed from the look of most motorway bridges. That’s pretty reassuring, actually. The engineeringy name for this process is ‘topology optimisation’ – essentially making the best use of space for structures. It’s been the aim of structural engineers since their existence and evolutionary algorithms are a modern development to help this.

In the past, welding or other manufacturing techniques were impractical for making the full strength but oddly-shaped structures. The brilliant thing about using these algorithms now is that 3D Printing is finally making it possible for the designs to be realised.

By specifying the restrictions and load cases, we can produce parts that can support the same forces, yet use less than half of the material. The potential for this high performance parts in aerospace and sports is staggering and I’m fascinated how people’s perceptions of ruggedly designed parts will change because of it.

I’m going to be investigating the technology next term for my final year project. I’m not quite sure what precisely I’ll be doing yet so if you have any knowledge or suggestions in this area I’d love to hear from you (email or twitter).

This sample 2D image was made with ToPy – open source Python Topology Optimisation code.