In the simulation space, it looks like topology optimization is getting hot. Not that long ago, Dassault Systèmes acquired FE-DESIGN, which is a move that will eventually make the use of topology optimization more accessible to everyday engineers. A change that has been a long time coming. Altair Engineering, on the other hand, chose to go after the same kind of objective, albeit through a different route. In the middle of June, Altair Engineering announced solidThinking Inspire 9.5, which includes topology optimization capabilities. Why is this event important? Well, let’s take a look.

New solidThinking Capabilities

So what exactly does the topology optimization capabilities in soldThinking Inspire do? Basically, they’ve dropped the topology optimization capabilities into a CAD environment. So right alongside 3D modeling capabilities, you have the ability to define a simulation setup, define the material that can be removed and it will remove it for you in an automated way.

For an overview of the procedure, here’s a screen capture from my briefing with them that shows you the workflow.

To get a more in depth look at what is involved, here’s the youtube video that walks through a demonstration.

The thing that is different here is that this capability exists in a 3D modeling CAD environment instead of a pure simulation environment. In the past, topology optimization essentially removed elements from an FEA model, which then had to be translated or converted back into a 3D model that a CAD application could use. And that was always the technology’s biggest hangup.

Commentary and Analysis

OK. So what does this mean?

There are many positives to solidThinking Inspire. Marrying the topology optimization capabilities with 3D modeling capabilities is a big step in the right direction. You see, Altair’s Optistruct is pretty powerful, but you really needed to be a dedicated simulation analyst to use it. On top of that, you needed to figure out how to turn the lumpy result into something smooth and manufacturable. Those were some serious limitations. This new release of solidThinking Inspire theoretically addresses those shortcomings, however. As a result, more generalists like design engineers should be able to use the technology. But furthermore, I think it can expand the use of topology optimization for a wider range of components. Previously, I suggested that Optistruct’s capabilities should primarily be reserved for weight critical and material cost intensive components. But this combination of capabilities expands the possibility to use of the technology to many more parts.

There are outstanding questions, however. How much can you really smooth out these models? How much post-topology optimization work is really required. User’s experiences will answer those questions over time.

Overall, this is a big step forward. And I’m keenly interested to see how Dassault Systèmes responds with integrating FE-DESIGN into CATIA and Solidworks, especially Solidworks Mechanical Conceptual.

Summary and Questions

Let’s recap.

  • Altair Engineering released the 9.5 version of solidThinking Inspire which includes topology optimization capabilities.
  • After setting up a simulation, these topology optimization capabilities remove material not being heavily loaded, creating lighter yet strong components.
  • Integrating topology optimization into the solidThinking 3D modeling environment is an important step forward for the technology.
  • Providing more control over the resulting shape and smoothness theoretically addresses the shortcomings of topology optimization in Optistruct.

That’s my take. What’s yours? Sound off and let us know what you think.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.