Autodesk’s project Dreamcatcher is the beginning of a new alliance between man and machine. The next step in computer assisted design(CAD) technology; a re-imagination of how a computer system actually assists us in design. In a sense, computer systems will actively collaborate with us in the process of design and manufacturing. Dreamcatcher is a project based on generative design system which is a new and a novel approach to design, wherein a designer specifies goals and constraints and the system presents numerous design options within the framework of those specifications. Many of the design solutions offered by the system would be impossible for a human to imagine, like what we sometimes witness in our dreams, and thus the name DREAMCATCHER.
EVOLUTIONARY DESIGN APPROACH:
In Conventional CAD systems, the designer presents the system with an input design and the system then assists in iterating the design based on various boundary conditions determined by the designer. Since the initial design is conceptualized, the design possibilities are limited by designer’s imagination. Moreover, he has to devote great effort to come up with a design that will function as desired, for which he uses designs that have previously worked fine and in many cases makes minor modifications to the existing ones to suit his needs. A generative design system offers a different approach: it takes inspiration from nature to create efficient, bionic geometries.
Using generative design, Autodesk teamed up with Airbus to create a bionic partition for their planes. The partition is used to separate the passengers and crew space. It also has jumpseats for the cabin crew to sit. Basically, the partition was already designed to be the best but Airbus wanted to see how they could improve on the best and, in the process, perhaps be able to figure out how to shape the future of flight. They wanted to explore what solutions generative design could offer. So collaborating with the people at Autodesk, who were also working on Project Dreamcatcher, they came up with a design that was stronger than the original one and surprisingly 45% lighter.
How does it translate in terms of benefits for Airbus?
By making parts, such as the partition, lighter without compromising on strength they will eventually be able to reduce fuel costs making their planes efficient as well as lend a hand in their effort to check climate change.
The interesting part is how the bionic partition mimics bone structure in mammals — being thicker at points of stress than other areas. And imagine extending the same design process to come up with the design of an whole new plane?! Airbus is already working on that!
But how do we give these designs real physical form? That is where Additive Manufacturing or 3D Printing comes into picture because generative design throws up such wondrous and complex designs which will be near impossible or not worth manufacturing using traditional manufacturing techniques. It allows for the creation of complex lattice structures (which we usually encounter in nature) because additive manufacturing takes its cue from nature and creates from the ground up. It adds material where it is needed instead of removing it from where it is not, mirroring nature’s crafting process.
Also such designs require unique materials which can be only made to work with Additive Manufacturing. Like in the case of Airbus and their bionic partition where they developed a new alloy called Scalmalloy, which has been specifically created to work with Additive Manufacturing methods. The bone like structure of the bionic partition could only be fabricated using Additive Manufacturing techniques.
Generative design and Additive Manufacturing are taking manufacturing and design to a whole new level. They are unraveling the realm of the impossible and making things feasible which we could hardly have imagined a few decades ago. Moreover, it is enhancing our cognitive abilities tremendously. Now computer systems are not just a passive part of creation but are developing capabilities similar to human learning through massive amount of resources at their disposal.
Nature hates wastefulness and it is evident in every living being. When we mimic nature we make our designs more efficient. Generative design and 3D Printing will make it possible for companies to create products tailored to the needs of consumers.
Further, for a designer, the primary challenge now is to define the problem: the goals, constraints and other aspects that he wishes to incorporate in the design. So now one does not necessarily have to be a skilled artist or draftsman to create something. What will be required is, a clear understanding of the problem and the ability to define it. Everybody will be taking their products to the design board once again and will leverage this new technology to come up with things that are distinct and organic in design. People at Autodesk summarize it brilliantly: “…with this, 3 guys in a college dorm could start a car company”.
They say it is the beginning of a new industrial revolution and when one sees the first handiwork of Generative design, the future will be far more spectacular than we can imagine.