3D Printing and Topology Optimization with FEM

The industrial competition leads to an increasing demand of optimizing the products in order to minimize the costs and to maximize the functionality.

Ready to save 87% of weight using FEM?

As a case study, we investigated a hydraulic manifold. This is a standard part for all hydraulic systems. Although it is widely spread, it reveals a high potential for optimization. Our goal was to reduce the weight of the manifold as well as to improve the hydraulic flow.

The additive manufacturing allowed thinking out of the box and finding new shapes for the internal channels optimizing the hydraulic flow and therefore the functionality of the entire system. This was achieved by replacing sharp edges by round curvatures, preventing dead ends and reducing turbulences in the flow and therefore the hydraulic loss. These small changes in the design lead to a significant increase of the functionality.

The topology optimization within the FEM Simulation allowed minimizing the weight of the system. The weight of the system was reduced by 87%. At the same time, the length was reduced by 23% and the number of bolts was changed from 6 to 4.

The geometry achieved by this process can be imported into common state CAD systems. It can be meshed and evaluated by an FEM simulation to ensure that the structure is feasible. Furthermore, it can be directly built by additive manufacturing.

3D printing for rapid prototyping and manufacturing

During the development of the hydraulic manifold, we used a filament 3D printer for rapid prototyping. Within the multiple iterations of the design process multiple iterations, several prototypes were built in PLA to assess the design.

The final design was built using additive manufacturing in stainless steel by our Partner Rolf Lenk Werkzeug- und Maschinenbau GmbH.

Minimize the weight – Maximize the functionality

Optimization approaches can be categorized into sizing, shape, and topology optimization approaches. They address different aspects of the structural design problem. In a typical sizing problem the goal may be to find the optimal thickness distribution of a web or flange or the optimal member areas in a truss structure. The main feature of the sizing problem is that the domain of the design model and state variables are known a priori and are fixed throughout the optimization process. In a shape optimization problem the goal is to find the optimum shape of this domain. Topology optimization of solid structures involves the determination of features such as the number and location and shape of holes and the connectivity of the Domain.

Topology optimization has become increasingly popular in recent years as the usually lengthy manual optimization process can be replaced by a numerical analysis. Within this method, a possible design space as well as loads and boundary conditions are defined. In a numerical analysis, material is removed from the design space to minimize or maximize an optimization objective such as mass, displacement, or compliance while satisfying a set of constraints such as maximum stress or displacement. This allows finding new and innovative designs for the individual technical application. Often, these designs cannot be manufactured with conventional production techniques. The latest developments in the 3D Printing offer entirely new possibilities to realize these shapes.

After performing the topology optimization simulation, the resulting structure is reworked based on manufacturing constraints. Additionally, geometry files suitable for import in a CAD Software or 3D Printing can be generated. The File can be used to 3D print parts or models at our or our partner’s facilities.

As a next step, the geometry can be meshed and analysed within the FEM software. This allows ensuring, that the manufactured part withstands the thermal and structural conditions.

Assess the entire potential of your individual product

Existing designs show potential for optimization, too. We identify possible solutions and propose possible implementing. This way, S.M.I.L.E. – FEM helps you to use the entire potential of your product.

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