The Changing Shape of Manufacturing

Topology optimization and additive manufacturing go together. The complex, organic form that might be the most material-efficient choice for a part generally cannot be produced conventionally. However, additive manufacturing puts optimal forms within reach.


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What is topology optimization? It is the use of mathematical analysis to achieve a part form that is suited purely to the load and function of the part, omitting all superfluous material. “You could think of it as being like a game of Jenga,” says David Ewing, technical marketing engineer for Renishaw’s Additive Manufacturing Products Division. That is, the objective is to remove blocks from low-stress areas that aren’t contributing to the strength of the part, leaving the part’s essential structure intact.

Topology optimization produces organic forms that generally can’t be produced through conventional manufacturing. However, realizing optimal part forms is one of the promises of additive manufacturing, which excels at producing complex shapes.

Mr. Ewing wrote this article on how topology optimization enabled Empire Cycles to produce a bike frame bracket 44 percent lighter than the bracket’s original design—even though the new, lightweight bracket is titanium when the heavy bracket had been aluminum.

Read more about topology optimization in this article about additive manufacturing at Penn State University.