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New software takes the guesswork and tedium out of computer-aided engineering

19 September 2015

A team of University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers recently released a new computer-aided engineering software program that has already gained plaudits from users.

For an explanation of this image see foot of article (credit: Krishnan Suresh)

UW-Madison mechanical engineering Professor Krishnan Suresh led a team that spent four years developing the software, which assists in optimising the design of parts for just about anything — from bicycles and aircrft to bridges and furniture.

The software is intended to help designers quickly identify component shapes — known as topologies — that maintain their structural integrity while using the least amount of material possible. Less material means components are both cheaper to produce and weigh less, major goals of most design engineers across applications.

"Design optimization lies at the heart of modern engineering," Suresh says. "It is critical in reducing cost, reducing material, reducing weight and increasing quality, and is a driving force behind innovation."

The free software is available as a plug-in for the popular computer-aided design program SolidWorks and as a cloud-based program accessible over the Web. The SolidWorks plug-in, called ParetoWorks, has been available since 2013, and is used by more than 50 universities around the world as well as several industrial corporations. The Web-based version, released this year at cloudtopopt.com, already counts more than 500 users, with two or three new users each day.

According to Suresh, the software is popular because it not only takes the guesswork out of creating ideal component topologies — a feature already available on other commercial software tools — but does so at incredibly fast speeds. The software needs only seconds to identify an optimised shape for a component, which Suresh says is far and away faster than other available software, all of which is beyond most human capabilities.

"Design optimisation can be very tricky, and difficult for humans to carry out manually," Suresh says.

Even an exceptionally talented engineer cannot intuitively come up with some of the material-saving topologies that a robust computer program is able to identify.

"We believe our tools are more robust, have wider applicability and are significantly faster than competing software and human design," Suresh says.

The innovative software was largely funded by the National Science Foundation, and more recently by Sandia National Laboratories and the software company Autodesk.

Suresh says the next goal is commercialisation, as designers in all sorts of fields could benefit from the software.

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first implementation of a full-fledged 3-D cloud-based design optimisation," Suresh says. "It's an accomplishment that even large corporations are struggling to match."

The series of graphics above show a hypothetical structural problem: the component must hold up under the stress of an applied force, represented by the arrows. The top image represents the component before optimisation, while the following images show the component optimised by Krishnan Suresh’s software

The series of graphics above show a hypothetical structural problem: the component must hold up under the stress of an applied force, represented by the arrows. The top image represents the component before optimisation, while the following images show the component optimised by Krishnan Suresh’s software.


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