General Motors has always been a leader and a pioneer of the auto industry, and that’s no exception when it comes to 3D printing. The company has been using the technology for more than 30 years, and was among the earliest adopters in the automotive industry. Today, GM has some of the industry’s most comprehensive 3D printing capabilities, with more than 50 3D printers that have produced over 250,000 prototype parts over the last decade alone.
Like most automotive manufacturers turning to new technology, GM is doing it for the purpose of reducing vehicle weight and mass and lowering emissions. Since 2016, the company has launched 14 new vehicle models with a total mass reduction of more than 5,000 pounds, or more than 350 pounds per vehicle. The new 2019 Chevy Silverado reduced mass by up to 450 pounds.
Lightweighting has numerous benefits even beyond reducing emissions. Eliminating mass in parts where material is not required for performance, combined with parts consolidation, means more interior space and vehicle content, as well as increased range and enhanced performance. It also allows for the integration of new features and allows designers to explore new designs and geometries.
GM is now taking another step in lightweighting technology, as well as proving itself once again to be a pioneer in advanced technology. The company has become the first auto maker in North America to use new generative design software from Autodesk. The software uses cloud computing and AI-based algorithms to rapidly explore multiple permutations of a part design, generating hundreds of options based on goals and parameters set by the user, such as weight, strength, material, fabrication method, etc. The user then selects the best option from those presented by the software.
“Generative design offers cloud options to explore, through which users can pick the most important properties,” Duann Scott, Manager, Strategy and Business Development for Autodesk’s Digital Manufacturing Group, told 3DPrint.com in a 2017 interview. “What materials, what processes are available to me? From there, you get a guide the software generates for you, and you can go with that or use as just a guide for further design work.”
Generative design provides many more options for vehicle mass reduction and parts consolidation than traditional design optimization methods. GM and Autodesk engineers have used the technology to produce a seat bracket as a proof-of-concept part that is 40 percent stronger and 20 percent lighter than the original part. It also consolidates eight different components into one 3D printed part.
As part of a multi-year collaboration focused on innovation, GM and Autodesk will work together on projects involving generative design, 3D printing and materials science. Executives and engineers from the two companies will participate in a series of onsite engagements to exchange ideas and expertise, and GM has on-demand access to Autodesk’s software and technical specialists.
“Generative design is the future of manufacturing, and GM is a pioneer in using it to lightweight their future vehicles,” said Scott Reese, Autodesk Senior Vice President for Manufacturing and Construction Products. “Generative technologies fundamentally change how engineering work is done because the manufacturing process is built into design options from the start. GM engineers will be able to explore hundreds of ready-to-be-manufactured, high-performance design options faster than they were able to validate a single design the old way.”
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