A New Era for the Manufacturing IndustryBy Marie-Pierre Mercier | Thu, 02/03/2022 - 12:52
For decades, the product development process had basically remained unchanged. It continued to be repetitive, rigid, and costly. It usually started with designers and engineers taking note of customer requirements, followed by creating a few design concepts, experimenting with possible shapes and materials, testing the designs virtually and physically to determine how they would perform under various conditions, and modifying them by trial and error. This whole process could delay the start of production, and the time to market.
This process has changed entirely due to the use of artificial intelligence. Over the last four years, we have heard about AI’s impact on virtually every economic activity. The fact is that, as its practical uses continue to advance and its costs decrease, more industries are benefiting, including manufacturing.
One of AI’s benefits is its ability to explore what results are achievable from various alternatives, even before making any decision. When we introduce this capability to manufacturing, we can explore simultaneously thousands of valid design solutions, based on the requirements that the final products must meet and the real-world manufacturing constraints, so that designers or engineers can filter and select those alternatives that allow advantages, including cost reductions, shorter development time, and lower material consumption, to improved performance of the product itself. We call this generative design.
Generative design is already beginning to develop parts and products of all types, including aeronautics components and athletic footwear. It is transforming how companies have designed for the past 30 to 40 years with CAD software.
However, the impact of generative design goes beyond the traditional notion of the design process. It also opens the possibility to options that even engineers would never have thought of, as they are limited by what they have seen in the past and what they consider to be true. These solutions make it possible to go beyond one's own experience, so I am confident that we are at a turning point in terms of innovation, as it gives companies a new perspective to bridge the gap between design and manufacturing.
One feature of generative design is that it leverages the cloud and machine learning capabilities to speed up the entire process by providing abundant design options during the same amount of time it would take engineers to meet to discuss a single one. This allows team members to set aside constraints, such as time or development costs to design with engineering and manufacturing expertise, and tap into their imaginations in an almost superhuman way.
Through generative design, many designers have found opportunities to lightweight parts, consolidate assemblies, and even explore different material and design options. While these actions have a clear economic value and contribute to meeting client needs, they also offer great benefits in terms of sustainability, not just because designers can come up with a solution using less material, which means it also produces less waste, but also, because generative design tools promote understanding of the environmental impact of design choices and the difference between one product versus another, or between selecting one component over another. Having access to that data allows teams to make better decisions and come out with more sustainable design solutions and, therefore, a more sustainable product.
Logitech Case and the Use of Fusion 360
I’ve witnessed how world-class companies from diverse industries have adopted generative design to solve engineering challenges and develop innovative new products. This has also helped them diminish their impact on the environment and in doing so, it has contributed to achieving their emissions reduction targets. At Autodesk, we are committed to democratizing a new wave of intelligent design automation technology to make software available to companies worldwide that will enable them to shape the future of how things are made.
One of the prominent cases we've worked with is Logitech, a designer of electronics. Recently, this company developed a gaming headset using Autodesk's Fusion 360 solution. Thanks to our technology, their hearing aids stood out in the market for being lightweight and packed with features. It is also important to note that Logitech was able to integrate the existing design and development infrastructure solution, without the need to start from scratch or replace any element to later explore new possibilities in design.
For Logitech's lead designer, Fusion 360 is “more than just a design tool.” This expert assured that it can be conceived as a technology that added value to the company's workflow through rapid prototyping and with a common data source to improve communication throughout the organization.
While the industry is taking solid steps toward generative design, we must not lose sight of the first challenge it faces. It requires both designers and production engineers to work and think in an entirely different way. The alternatives that meet the requirements are now much broader, and designers must focus on exploring the advantages and disadvantages of each. Achieving this shift in thinking and developing the intuition to use the tools takes time. However, as artificial intelligence becomes part of all work processes and generative design becomes the norm for product development, it will be exciting to witness what the manufacturing industry will achieve.