Design as parameterization: brute-forcing the manufacturing/ design problem-space

Here's something exciting: Autodesk's new computer-aided design software lets the designer specify the parameters of a solid (its volume, dimensions, physical strength, even the tools to be used in its manufacture and the amount of waste permissible in the process) and the software iterates through millions of potential designs that fit. The designer's job becomes tweaking the parameters and choosing from among the brute-forced problem-space of her object, rather than designing it from scratch.

If designers were able to keep the development process digital, as software developers can, the process could run faster — no need to constantly translate between digital and physical — and parts of it could be automated and optimized.

Autodesk’s automated design software works through three layers. Generators populate physical space with matter, creating thousands of design suggestions in a split-second. Analyzers test each design against constraints developed by the designer: does it fit in the desired shape? Does it satisfy strength, thermal, material, and mechanical requirements? Above those, an optimization system finds the best designs, returns them to the starting point, and refines them repeatedly. “What we’re offering is to use the computer as a way to explore options,” says Kowalski. “It’s getting us closer to the optimal designs, the ones we wish we had.”

That optimization engine can go all the way down to individual toolpaths in the manufacturing process, thanks to closer linkages between software and industrial tools, so a designer might ask the software to minimize waste or balance cost against environmental impact from materials.

The automation of design [Jon Bruner/O'Reilly Radar]

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  1. While its certainly an interesting idea, it's probably more useful for giving the designer unusual or counter-intuitive ideas on how to solve the design problem, rather than offering useful designs as a final product. Especially if the item in the photo is a representative sample of a 'good' or human-selected outcome. Design for manufactureability seems to be limited to things you can produce with a 3D printer, rather than more traditional production methods. Which isn't necessarily a problem for some design fields, but I would want a design you can weld or bolt together for, say bridges, until someone invents a very large, steel-output mobile 3D printer (and by god, that would be something to see!)

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