General Motors' auto engineers have been heavyweights in vehicle lightweighting for years. Just since 2016, GM has launched 14 new vehicle models with a total mass reduction of over 5000 pounds or more than 350 pounds per vehicle. The lighter the car, the less fuel it uses, the less carbon it emits and the more money the driver saves. For more information see the IDTechEx report on 3D printing materials.
Now to push the boundaries on its next generation of lightweighting, the automaker is teaming up with Autodesk to use a combination of generative design and additive manufacturing as key technologies to develop future cars and trucks, including its alternative propulsion and zero emission vehicles. GM has announced it is becoming the first major automaker in North America to adopt Autodesk generative design software to go beyond the weight reduction possible through traditional design optimization techniques.
Generative design is a design exploration technology that uses AI-based algorithms to simultaneously generate multiple valid solutions based on real-word manufacturing constraints and product performance requirements, such as strength, weight, materials and more. Engineers can explore and choose from far more manufacturing-ready design options, far more rapidly than was ever conceivable before. They are freed from repetitive design tasks so they can focus on higher-value decisions like maximizing part performance.
"This disruptive technology provides tremendous advancements in how we can design and develop components for our future vehicles to make them lighter and more efficient," said GM Vice President Ken Kelzer, Global Vehicle Components and Subsystems. "When we pair the design technology with manufacturing advancements such as 3D printing, our approach to vehicle development is completely transformed and is fundamentally different to co-create with the computer in ways we simply couldn't have imagined before."
In an initial proof-of-concept project, GM and Autodesk engineers working together at GM's Tech Center in Warren, Michigan used generative design to reconceive a small, but important vehicle component - the seat bracket where seat belts are fastened. The software produced more than 150 valid design options based on parameters the engineers set, such as required connection points, strength and mass. They zeroed in on a new design, whose organic structure no human could have conceived on their own. It is 40 percent lighter and 20 percent stronger than the original part.
It also demonstrates another major benefit of generative design - part consolidation. The new part consolidates eight different components into one 3D-printed part.
This seat bracket project is just the beginning of multi-year, innovation-focused alliance for GM and Autodesk. The two companies will collaborate on additional projects involving generative design, additive manufacturing and materials science. Executives and engineers will participate in a series of onsite engagements to exchange ideas, learnings, and expertise. In March, for example, two GM engineers participated in a two-week generative design residency at Autodesk's Pier 9 technology center.
Source and top image: Autodesk