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Artificial Intelligence in CAD: Generative Design Tools, Topology Optimization and More

When it comes to engineering and design, the game is changing, thanks to the infusion of artificial intelligence into CAD. With the advent of generative design tools and topology optimization, AI is propelling the capabilities of CAD software to unprecedented heights, enabling engineers and designers to unlock new levels of creativity, efficiency, and innovation. Companies like MG AEC, General Motors and Airbus are already taking advantage of these technologies to improve their designs.



Generative Design Tools: AI's Creative Companion


Generative design stands as the epitome of AI's impact on the world of CAD, introducing a collaborative partnership between human creativity and AI-driven algorithms. By providing design goals, constraints, and material parameters, generative design algorithms generate a multitude of design alternatives, each offering unique solutions to a specific challenge. This process taps into AI's ability to analyze vast datasets, exploring design spaces beyond human capacity, leading to designs that push the boundaries of convention. An example of this is Autodesk’s Fusion 360, a tool that uses advanced algorithms to create designs based on input parameters & constraints, and provides integrated simulations that let you test your designs.


The human-AI collaboration empowers engineers to focus on conceptualization and refining design criteria while AI undertakes the exploration of design possibilities, resulting in designs that bear the imprint of both human ingenuity and AI's computational power. These advancements reshape the idea-to-design journey, reducing reliance on 3D designs as the sole means of conveying intent. Traditional designs, whether 2D or 3D, have historically translated customer needs into products. However, this hampers the industry by confining insights, constraints, and goals within an opaque design, hindering quick adjustments and innovation adoption like 3D printing. For instance, aircraft components remain static over a 20-year lifespan, deferring innovation until the next generation.


Topology Optimization: Rethinking Material Distribution


Topology optimization, powered by AI, is challenging conventional notions of material distribution within designs. This approach seeks to identify the optimal layout of materials that achieves the desired structural performance while minimizing weight. Leveraging AI algorithms, stress patterns, loading conditions, and material properties are scrutinized to determine the ideal material configuration, yielding designs that boast not only reduced weight but also exceptional strength. An example of topology optimization solution is the leading edge droop nose ribs for Airbus 380, which achieved structural weight saving design meeting all mechanical performance requirements.


Topology optimization serves as an AI-driven disruptor that often yields forms that diverge from traditional design conventions. Companies like Proto3000 offer topology optimization services to help elevate mechanical performance, but also bear implications for sustainability, as it curtails material waste while upholding structural integrity.


Accelerating Innovation, Streamlining Iteration


One of the most compelling advantages of AI in CAD is its potential to drastically reduce design iteration cycles. Traditional design methodologies often involve a repetitive cycle of creating prototypes, testing, and refining. AI-powered generative design and topology optimization techniques streamline this iterative process by rapidly exploring a multitude of design variations. This acceleration of the innovation cycle empowers engineers to converge swiftly on optimal designs that fulfill both functional prerequisites and aesthetic aspirations. Additionally, solutions such as Flows platform contribute to this acceleration. Authentise's software bridges the gap between design and production, employing AI to manage additive manufacturing through real-time data analytics. By integrating such a solution, the iterative process can seamlessly extend into the manufacturing realm, further enhancing efficiency and innovation.


Challenges and Future Prospects


While the synergy of AI and CAD presents numerous benefits, it also presents certain challenges. An issue of note is the comprehensibility of AI-generated designs. As AI produces intricate designs, elucidating the rationale behind its decisions can be intricate. Ensuring AI-generated designs adhere to safety and compliance standards while remaining interpretable to human designers remains an ongoing challenge.


There are two factors retarding the adoption of AI to which solutions are less apparent:


First is the learning curve associated with adopting AI-driven CAD tools. Engineers and designers need to familiarize themselves with the capabilities and limitations of these tools to maximize their potential. In the coming years, engineers will evolve into constraint or prompt managers who articulate product objectives and limitations verbally and through data references. This shift is crucial to expedite engineering processes and meet ambitious sustainability goals.


Second is that the future impact of these algorithms will be limited if we continue to maintain an overreliance on CAD models as a means of communicating intent. These models limit our ability to pass on vital information as to the requirements, available technologies or other decision influences that contributed to those designs. Without that contextual knowledge, algorithms will not have sufficient information to redesign the parts. This in turn will then require a re-engineering process to take place with each newly available manufacturing technology or algorithm. As we’ve witnessed with the slow adoption of additive manufacturing this becomes untenable, so the adoption will remain limited to new engineering projects.

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