Generative Design:  The New CAD?

The generative design has been around since the early 1990s and was first used to create simple artwork and animations.  But, now it is being incorporated into various CAD programs and has become a subject of conversation on many CAD blogs.

What is Generative Design? 

Generative design is an “organic” process in that it mimics nature’s evolutionary approach to design.  For instance, trees and bones are strong and relatively lightweight. To distribute stress uniformly, trees add wood at the heaviest load points. Bones remove material from areas where it isn’t needed to lighten skeletal frameworks.

Generative design

By starting with design goals – strong and lightweight – nature has engineered two structures that serve their purposes remarkably well.

These kinds of design lessons learned from nature are now being incorporated into today’s CAD programs to optimize the weight and performance of materials, structures, and designs.

How Does It Work?

By starting with specific design goals, which designers or engineers load into generative design software, along with parameters, which may include types of materials, manufacturing methods, and cost constraints. Then, using computer programmed algorithms, the generative design software explores all the possible permutations of a solution, quickly generating design alternatives. It tests and learns from each iteration what works and what doesn’t.

With generative design, there is no single solution; instead, there are potentially thousands of solutions. It’s up to the design team to choose the one that best fits their needs.

Companies such as Autodesk have been talking about generative design software for some time. While the idea wasn’t new, it had been largely theoretical — until cloud computing made the computer-intensive process fast enough to be feasible.

The biggest difference between generative design and traditional CAD design is that the design solutions are created autonomously.  Thanks to the artificial intelligence–based algorithms, the software can generate solutions that a human designer might never think of.  As Autodesk has said, “In the time you can create one idea, a computer can generate thousands, along with the data to prove which designs perform best.”

How Does It Affect the Future of CAD?
It appears, at least in Autodesk’s opinion, that generative design often yields designs that can’t be realized without 3D printing, because their complex internal voids frustrate traditional production methods such as milling.

That’s why, according to a recent article in Cadalyst Magazine, the new Autodesk Generative Design product is starting out with a focus on additive manufacturing.  While Autodesk Generative Design is currently in limited beta testing, with plans to launch officially in Netfabb 2018, the current plan is to continue to develop the software to support additional manufacturing technologies such as CNC, casting, and injection molding.

Internal Autodesk projections are that it will evolve quickly.

We’re taking a “wait and see” attitude.  We don’t see a future in which basic CAD design and engineering disappear — yet.  Each individual company will need to figure out if and how this new generative design technology fits into their processes.

In the meantime, we continue to provide our great CAD services to our customers, knowing that if a generative design does supplant traditional CAD, we’ll be ready, just as we were when 2D CAD started to give way to 3D CAD.  The generative design will make the services that we provide — such as simulation and modeling – even more in demand, earlier in the process.


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