New 3D Tools Escalate Product Development
Do you remember CB car radios, computers that took up an entire room, curly cords on landlines, and that arcade game called Pong? Yeah, me neither, but maybe that’s because I was born in the 90’s. However, I do remember growing up in the age of rapid technology growth. My family’s game systems went from Duck Hunt on the Nintendo 64 to Call of Duty on the Xbox. I had to buy floppy disks in elementary school and flash drives in high school. I had an iPod Nano and a flip phone in middle school because the iPhone had not come out yet. Our TV had an antenna and was an 18” cube and then changed to a wall-mounted, 40” flat screen.
It’s hard to look back and comprehend the incredible change technology has had on our lives, and it’s hard to look forward and imagine that we will go through more. So, what’s next? I often listen to podcasts and webinars on various topics related to engineering. Within the 3D-modeling world, there are some really cool innovations taking place. Originally, I planned to just talk about these new tools from a theoretical perspective. But what’s the fun in talking about them when I have access to using them firsthand? I decided to put some of these new tools into practice while modeling a chair and share my findings with you.
Generative design is a new cloud-based 3D tool in Fusion360 (a program which I will talk about later on in this blog) that will generate hundreds of solutions for your model based on the constraints and variables input by an engineer. Used mostly in conceptual phases of a design, it will often output designs that look alien or nature based (google: “generative design”) but can give results that greatly reduce material, increase strength, and can combine multiple parts into one.
Instead of using the generative design feature in Fusion360, I decided to use the shape generator feature in Inventor which still maintains some of the big concepts around generative design but is free in Inventor and arguably easier to understand for people new to this concept like me.
To develop my chair’s back rest, I created a rough outline for the shape I wanted using sketches and loft. I then selected the Shape Generator feature and loaded the design requirements I set for my chair such as: force applied, material, fixed points, mesh size, regions to preserve, and goals for material reduction. After letting the program run, it gave me a mesh with a design that met these requirements.
Left: My sketch/loft of the back rest. Middle: The mesh produced by shape generator.
Right: The geometry I modeled on top of the generated mesh.
The program took about 20 minutes to generate the mesh shape. It reduced the material by 76%. I promoted the mesh shape to my feature tree, modeled in the cutouts, and added some shape to my back rest which was all based on the results of the shape generator.
To reflect, I would love to explore Fusion360’s generative design feature and use this on more complex design problems. Rather than just giving one result, it can produce hundreds. It also runs on the Cloud allowing me to work as it loads in the background. Overall, I think this software will become a game changer in the design world. It maintains design requirements, frees up time previously spent on modeling, and it produces material reduction and part simplification results. Definitely a feature to explore for Inventor or Fusion360 users.
After building the rest of my chair frame, I brought the part into Fusion360. If you haven’t heard of this program before, it is a relatively new 3D modeling platform developed by Autodesk that runs through the Cloud. Fusion360 incorporates all the traditional functions you expect a 3D modeling program to have such as modeling and drawing functions, simulation/FEA, and sheet-metal design. But it also incorporates other capabilities such as generative design, CAM programming, part animation, and image rendering. It can run on Mac, PC, and mobile devices and can be paired with A360 which is like Google Drive but for Fusion360/Autodesk. Overall, this program seeks to create a more collaborative and accessible experience for all parties involved in the creation of a product.
In Fusion360, I started by creating a seat and designating materials for my chair. While this is not a lot of design work, I have been using Fusion360 on and off for a few months and can reflect on those experiences.
Some obvious setbacks to the program for me is its new interface and modeling rules. For example, there is no difference between part and assembly files. The feature tree and modeling history is organized dramatically different from other programs in my experience. Understanding Fusion360’s use of sketches, bodies, components, and joints, to name a few, all require some getting used to.
I think it will take a bit for this program to take off in the industry. For one, transitioning between modeling programs is a huge undertaking for a company. It requires lots of training, dealing with the difference between old files and new files, and giving up the expertise your employees have in the program(s) you’ve traditionally used. Secondly, Fusion360 needs to gain more depth in its features to handle the complexity and style of each unique company, but this will come with time.
That being said, I think it’s the first modeling program to really implement extensive and exhaustive collaboration technology across multiple departments. Without owning a Fusion360 license, a stakeholder (such as a marketer, sales executive, or a customer) can use the viewing features in A360 to see the 3D model created by an engineer and add comments to specific areas or features. This creates more seamless communication between groups leading to quicker product development. With time, this program could transform the way models of each moving part are made, communicated, and shared in every project. If anything, it will push more traditional modeling programs to adopt or implement similar features into their current programs repertoire.
Although this is not a revolutionary new feature in many modeling programs, I think image rendering is often an underutilized feature. Creating quality images of your models to share with other team members can have an enormous impact on their perception of the project and your work. It gives them immediate feedback of quality, thoughtfulness, and thoroughness before they even get into the details of the model.
I decided to see how Fusion360 holds up in developing quality images. Through their rendering features, I was able to set variables such as material appearances and scene settings.
While I kept my features clean and simple, it was clear that advanced settings could have been chosen. The render gave a finished and professional look to the chair.
Other tools out there to communicate your models through image development include animation features in Fusion360 or creating a virtual reality experience by loading models into programs like 3ds Max. While I haven’t tried these out myself, I think they are innovative tools and offer impressive techniques to communicate designs and therefore are worth mentioning here.
Staying up-to-date on everything in the tech world can be overwhelming. Sometimes it may feel like you are just playing catch up rather than staying ahead of the pack. DISHER would be excited to come alongside your projects and explore new technologies, how they change work environments, and how they offer innovation to your products. Learn more about our innovation process here, and if you are interested in attending an Innovation Engineering workshop click here.
Written By: Maddie Swets, Product Development Engineer
Maddie is a Calvin College alumni with a BS in Mechanical Engineering who has a knack for problem solving and passion for tackling complex engineering challenges. In her free time, she enjoys painting and visiting her family in Chicago. Maddie is a fan of the Harry Potter series and considers pasta to be her favorite food