Live Parts: Designing machines like living organisms

Posted on 16 Feb 2018 by Jonny Williamson

The newest SOLIDWORKS feature, Live Parts, is an experimental generative design tool that applies morphogenetic principles and advanced simulation to shape strong, lightweight parts in minutes.

Andy Roberts demonstrates at SOLIDWORKS WORLD 2018 Live Parts, a new approach for engineers to ‘grow’ engine parts.

The tool produces functional parts with complex, efficient geometries that are ideally suited for 3D printing, and it reportedly requires no prior knowledge of design for additive manufacturing techniques or guidelines.

Andy Roberts, software engineer with Desktop Metal, unveiled at SOLIDWORKS WORLD 2018 the software technology which enables engineers to design machine parts based on algorithms imitating the way plants grow.

Live Parts is based on the premise that natural forces are not applied in isolation or in a vacuum on an object.

In a traditional way of designing a machine part, an engineer places the component to be constructed in different force environments – one after another and separated from each other.

Designing parts organically 

With Live Parts, components are designed in an organic way without interruptions and vacuums between the construction stages, the program can grow engine parts in a real-time environment.

The premise of this technology is: the engineer defines ‘attractor zones’ and ‘seed zones’ for the voxels, like a setup for an imitation of a cellular organism.

In a cellular organism, a plant is growing towards light or water; the bending of the plant under its weight and the forces applied make it grow stronger.

By imitating this natural concept, a part in SOLIDWORKS can reportedly be grown within a few minutes. In the process of designing the part with the software, data is seamlessly transferred back and forth through the cloud.

Roberts added: “Now, we are growing a part. As it grows, it gets stronger and dead parts are falling off, and dying, and the other stronger parts are growing.

“The other parts are getting stronger and the parts that are not doing anything anymore fall off. So, we are getting an optimised balanced part in real time.

“At any time during this process, we can have a look at what it is going to look like as a smooth part. I just told it to stop. This is creating a presentation that we can send directly to the 3D printer.”

Defining the symmetry-breaking constraints 

While this is a living organism, it also addresses issues like symmetry-breaking constraints and shape constraints, so the program designs only parts that fit back into the original assembling.

Live Parts allows to work with multiple forces as well. These can be spun around the backside of the component, which then hollows out certain parts of the element.

The forms and shapes Live Parts creates, said Roberts, would never be created by an engineer in an explicit way, although the designed component makes absolute sense from an engineering point of view.

Roberts added: “You not only define your constraints that work out your part, you can as well create gravity waves, that pulls the thing through the environment.”

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