Frustum-GrabCAD 3D Printed Quadcopter Challenge Winners Announced


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frustum-logoWe’ve seen GrabCAD team up with Stratasys for 3D printing challenges, but this time, the digital manufacturing hub has joined with topology optimization software company Frustum, focused on developing the latest design tools through its Generate software platform, for a joint challenge.  Yesterday, Frustum announced the winners of the Generate-GrabCAD Quadcopter Challenge. The challenge, which was hosted on GrabCAD’s Community platform, asked participants to use the cloud-based generative design Generate software, and traditional CAD modeling software, to make an optimized, 3D printed quadcopter airframe design.


Designers were tasked to utilize constraint-driven design methodology to make a lightweight quadcopter. In order to enter, participants needed to:

  1. Create a CAD model in the rough shape of what they ultimately wanted to optimize
  2. Sign up for the Generate topology optimization software
  3. Set up load conditions in Generate, and use the conditions to make the final model
  4. Download the optimized STL model from Generate and upload to GrabCAD entry
  5. Add relevant renderings, including one of the finished model

A panel of Frustum employees, including founder and CEO Jesse Coors-Blankenship (who will soon be teaching about volumetric pixel and optimization techniques in our Advanced Design for 3D Printing class), along with GrabCAD software organization member and president of Aerospace Advisory Group Robert Wilson, evaluated the 232 design submissions. The judging criteria included takeoff and payload delivery, meta design space, design aesthetics and ingenuity of design space(s), flight for 50 meters, total flight time, and soft landing, and ingenuity of load case(s).

Blankenship said, “Working with the GrabCAD team and its brilliant and global community of engineers, gave us a myriad of innovative designs. We had more than 200 entries, most embracing the freedom additive manufacturing brings and creating designs not possible with traditional manufacturing techniques.”

Salva Serrano's Quadcopter Drone

Salva Serrano’s Quadcopter Drone

In first place, from Alicante, Spain, is Salva Serrano, co-founder of architectural and design studio Ootro Estudio, which specializes in both digital manufacturing and 3D modeling. His winning quadcopter optimization design addressed all the challenge requirements, and also added in helpful features to assist with the important takeoff and landing, like legs and feet. He explained that he was “surprised” by Generate’s speed and ease-of-use, and believes it to be “a very useful tool for designers that look for structural efficiency and material savings.”

When asked to describe his design process, Serrano said, “I start by thoroughly studying the materials and the judging criteria. In this case, I identified that the key criteria were the load cases because the relationship between function and form depend on them. Because Quadcopter frames are under the most stress during take-off, I focused my load case there. I also decided to include four landing feet in the frame to make take-offs and landings softer while protecting the payload.”

“I designed a meta-space to consider everything and then used Generate to perform volume reduction. I was pleasantly surprised by the result and how few adjustments I had to make after the optimization to ensure symmetry and solidity of the frame.”

Carlos Fuentes

Quadcopter by Carlos Fuentes

Carlos Fuentes, from the United States, took second place with his all-black quadcopter. The judges explained that his futuristic entry, with a rigid airframe that could survive a crash or two, relied on his ability to post-process Generate results, as well as working with meshes.

“This entry looks toward the future where generative design is integrated more closely with traditional CAD techniques,” the judges commented.

Hailing from Schiedam, Netherlands, third place winner Michael van der Bent, an improvement engineer with ThyssenKrupp Accessibility, demonstrated through his design process that he searched for the right balance between airframe mass and performance for his Topologie Optimised Quadcopter. The judges wrote that they appreciated the decision-making processing and documentation van der Bent submitted with his design. His rigid airframe will protect the payload, and the internal electronics.

van der Bent

Michael van der Bent’s Topologie Optimised Quadcopter

van der Bent explained that he used the Generate software to simulate how his optimized quadcopter shape would turn out, and modeled it from that point, noting that the “functionality of the part determines the development of the shape, rather than the other way around.”

“I’ve been interested in topology optimization in general from previous personal projects and had given Generate a try when it was in beta,” van der Bent said when asked what interested him about the Generate-GrabCAD Quadcopter Challenge. “The huge potential of the platform was immediately clear. The challenge gave me a perfect opportunity to dive back into the platform and do something more complex.”

Serrano received a cash prize of $2,500, while Fuentes won $1,000 and van der Bent received $500; all three received a free subscription to the Generate platform.


One of the challenge finalists, freelance mechanical engineer Christian Oekermann from Germany, said that programs like Generate can “open up” a person’s creativity and a new design process.

“Using Generate really helped me understand how a mechanical design should be shaped in order to create the optimal structure,” Oekermann said. “It is also very easy to tell which areas of the structure are receiving high loads and need improvement.

I definitely would not have been able to make my final design without Generate. In a standard design process, your mind focuses on regular geometric shapes like rectangles, straight lines and circles. This is how we are taught as mechanical engineers in the standard manufacturing process. With additive manufacturing, the designer gains the freedom to create optimal, organic shapes. To me the combination of optimization and 3D printing is the future of product design. Designers need new tools like Generate to unlock the full potential.”

Discuss in the Quadcopter Challenge forum at


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