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Topology Optimization: Create the best version of your parts!


The goal of every product development team and designer is to create the perfect item that performs well, solves a problem for the customer, and ideally saves costs for the company. 3D printing is already seen as a manufacturing process that can achieve those things. It offers the designer freedom of design and new possibilities when it comes to product development or optimization. Even though the designers are the best in their field and know the ins and outs of CAD software, there are some optimization possibilities that the human eye may overlook. This is where Topology Optimization comes into play. But what is it, and how does the Topology Optimization process work? We will answer these and more questions in our Topology Optimization guide below.

What is Topology Optimization?

An introduction to Topology Optimization

Simply put, Topology Optimization (TO) is a process that optimizes a part by reducing the unnecessary material. It uses mathematics to improve the geometry of a part to figure out where an object needs material and where the material has no use for the efficiency and performance of the later product and is simply there for aesthetic reasons. The goal of TO is to create a part with the best possible performance by reducing as much material as possible.

Topology Optimization is often connected to Additive Manufacturing since 3D printing can easily produce optimized parts. 3D printing or Additive Manufacturing is a growing manufacturing technique, whether for prototypes or end-products. It gives the designer the freedom to create the part, save it in a 3D file and then send it to print. The printer creates the object layer by layer to create the part. Giving businesses the ability to transform a digital object into a physical form. There are different kinds of printers and materials that can be used. For printing in plastics, using selective laser sintering technology is best. For metal parts, DMLS or Binder Jetting technology should be used.

Compared to 3D printing, traditional manufacturing methods can also work with TO models but generally have higher limits and cannot go further when it comes to Topology Optimization. The freedom of Design, which Additive Manufacturing offers, is the complementary process for exploiting all of the advantages TO can offer. 

TO is becoming increasingly used as many industries work with it to create strong parts despite using less material. To name a few fields like aerospace, biochemical, civil engineering, medical, or automotive all use TO. In their use case, Altair showcased how Topology Optimization is reducing 500 kg from a plane. That weight loss automatically means less consumption, since the higher the weight of a plane the more fuel is needed. 

Workflow of a Topology Optimization

Even though there are various TO methods, the most common one is  FE (finite element) based technique. The actual optimization of a part is usually in the last part of the design process. 

First, the user has to define the part of the object that incorporates the max. volume the object can occupy. This is also called “design space.” Then the user will set the external forces that the object should be tested in. This is the hard part of the optimization, as it is essential to know precisely which external forces are impacting the part. It is also not enough to know which forces. The importance is to know how big the forces are and how to define them. If the settings are added, the TO algorithm finds, in the following simulation, spots that can be removed and still withstand external stress. 

The software then proposes various design ideas by reducing the used material while the design can withstand external forces. Every time a part of the material is being removed, the algorithm checks if the object would still work under the set stress. After the user is satisfied with the result from the simulation, the object is then checked for printability. Sometimes the user will customize the design again to make the object look more aesthetic than the result from the simulation. 

Topology Optimization vs Generative design

Topology Optimization is often described as a form of Generative Design. But where exactly do these two methods differentiate? Generative Design creates multiple possible designs which is helpful when the designer is unsure which kind of shape or design is needed. TO only focuses on a single design and all the possibilities for optimizing it. For example, when a shape is picked from the Generative Design selection, TO can be used to optimize the shape. This means that TO is used by Generative Designs. However,  TO never uses Generative Designs, as it needs a single design input to work with.

What Advantage does TO have?

  • Reduction of the Design process

Topology Optimization helps create the final design faster, which means that the general time-to-market process shortens. The algorithm works faster and more effectively than human work can. Meaning that time can be saved within the design process since fewer iterations are needed to get to a final design. 
  • Less material for lighter parts

Another positive aspect is that a Topological optimized part needs less material in production. 3D printing helps reduce the amount of wasted material, as only required material is used for manufacturing. With the optimized models, even less material is required. This saves on costs and makes the part lighter, which is of great value in fields like aerospace. The TO-optimized product helps to be more sustainable since the material is not processed unnecessarily. 
  • Cost-Savings

With Topology optimized parts you will naturally be able to cut costs, let’s discuss how. Due to the reduced time introducing the product to the market, less money is spent within the development process. Another aspect lies in production since less material is being used to manufacture the part.  As mentioned above, industries such as automotive or aerospace use TO for their products
  • Better performing parts 

By removing unnecessary material, TO also helps the designers create a product that is generally better performing as the simulation tests them accordingly to the settings from the designer. This allows anticipating the stress and making sure that the part has a good enough design to be resistant enough for the external forces. 

What Software to use?

As Topology Optimization gains popularity and use, many CAD software offers a TO module with their programs like Ansys Discovery, Altair Inspire, Autodesk Fusion 360, Solidworks, ntopology, and many more. 

  • Autodesk Fusion 360

One software that has a Topology Optimization module is Fusion 360  from Autodesk. Fusion 360 is a cloud-based software platform that can support you in manufacturing and product design. There are many different options Fusion 360 offers its user, including simulation, like Topology Optimization. Autodesk provides a 30-day free trial for Fusion 360. After the free month, the software costs $495. 

  • Altair Inspire

Altair offers software that is completely focused on simulation and Topology Optimization: Altair Inspire. This software solution helps designers and users to easily and quickly create an innovative and original design that, thanks to TO, is perfectly optimized. Altair Inspire works with different CAD tools. There is a free trial period of 15-days available. 

  • Ansys Discovery 

The company Ansys Discovery offers a 3D simulation software called Ansys Discovery. It allows the designer to find answers to difficult design questions earlier in the design process . By solving these questions head-on in the design process, Discovery can help to raise productivity. TO is one of the simulations that is included in the software. If you are interested, Ansys Discovery offers a 30-day trial to test the software. 

  • Solidworks by Dassault Systèmes

Solidworks is a CAD software by the company Dassault Systèmes. The CAD software offers a Topology Optimization option within their software services. Before the purchase of the software, Solidworks allows testing the product. 

  • ntopology

The company ntopology also offers a software solution that includes a TO simulation tool. The ntopology software allows working with state-of-the-art TO technology and creating products with less material without losing performance. If you want to get to know the software better, you can request a Demo of ntopology.

Start your optimization process with Sculpteo Studio right now!

Now it is your turn! Optimize your parts now by using Topology Optimization and benefit from the various advantages. As mentioned above, TO is getting more and more accessible. However, to use this method’s advantages, it is necessary to have a broad and profound knowledge in the 3D printing and Topology Optimization field. If you are just starting to include 3D printing into your production or want to begin to work with Topology Optimization, our experienced team at Sculpteo Studio is here to help. Sculpteo Studio consists of experienced industrial designers and engineers who support you not only with TO problems or questions but with every 3D printing-related issue. They can help you to identify possible 3D printing opportunities and support you to implement them. No matter the questions, we encourage you to contact our Sculpteo Studio team. 

If you have finished with a TO-optimization, you can upload your 3D model such as an STL file onto our website and print your part after choosing the desired material from our catalog. Our team will handle the rest!

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