Generative design is a pretty hot topic as of late. It’s been applied to electrical and electronic spaces as well, but here we’re going to talk about its uses in the mechanical space.

Topology Optimization

The earliest example of generative design that is inclusive today is topology optimization. This is a separate technology, so I want to make sure we’re clear on that. The idea behind topology optimization is that you define the types of geometric constraints that you have on your design. You may identify some other constraints in terms of engineering performance, but it’s always structural.

What happens then is the software will actually run structural simulations, and remove material that is not carrying load through the part. This gives you lighter, more organic shapes. Topology optimization is definitely a good technology for lightweighting, and it’s been around for quite some time. Altair kind of championed this technology about 30 years ago with the University of Michigan. Topology optimization technology falls within the umbrella of the generative design capability category.


The other one generative design technology is much newer, and only started to be developed about five years ago. There are a number of different software companies that partnered with some research institutes to try to figure out how to apply some biomimicry technologies.

The idea here is to look at something like the way the body grows bone, or how bacteria colonies develop multiple paths to a food source, and apply it to what you’re engineering. The question asked is, “How can we mimic that for a structural engineering component?” This new area of study has seen a lot of success.

In this type of design, the goal is to mimic nature’s evolutionary process. Design goals are put into a generative design software along with parameters and constraints, and the software generates all of the possible ideas, learning from each previous iteration.

Autodesk is a notable company that has put a lot of research into this type of capability, and it comes up with a wide variety of options so that engineers can perform trade studies. They can see how it performs on graphs, when you’re looking at what are often conflicting constraints.

So in general, you’re going to see two types of technology within generative design: topology optimization, and biomimicry.

For more information on Generative Design, visit our entry What is Generative Design?