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Understanding the Concept of Topology Optimization to Develop Lightweight Products

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One of the promising features of finite element analysis that engineers utilize is the ability to optimize the size and shape of the product design, while maintaining the required strength against premature failure. Topology optimization is certainly the most valuable tool for designers who are consistently forced to develop light weight and cost effective products to maintain a competitive edge in the market.

Topology Optimization Process
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The concept of structural topology optimization is to place the available material optimally within the available design space to meet the prescribed set of performance targets, and subsequently assist in reducing the weight with maximum stiffness. While most topology optimization software available today requires minimum product knowledge, the process of optimization must be utilized using a team of FEA analyst, CAD specialist and an engineer with product knowledge.

Concept of Topology Optimization

To understand the concept, let’s take an example of an engine piston. The design of the piston is developed to withstand the pressure loads resulting from the burning of the fuel mixture, which also increases the temperature. In order to accommodate the deformation resulting due to the structural load (pressure) and thermal load, the design of the piston must stiff enough. However, the entire geometry of the piston is not affected by these loads, and hence material optimization can be achieved.

Using topology optimization technique, solution can be derived to optimally place the material without affecting the stiffness, allowing the engineers to remove materials from regions were stress concentration and deformation is not present. This in turn helps in reducing the overall weight of the piston, while also maintains the required strength effectively.

In another example shown in the figure below, the process of topology optimization is initiated by first defining the design space followed by applying the loads and constraints. By setting the objective to minimize the strain energy and constraining the upper bound remaining mass to 20%, the optimization yields a final shape, which is 20% of the original mass without compromising its stiffness!

Benefits of Using Topology Optimization

Concept of Topology Optimization

Topology optimization can be utilized to discover an optimal structural geometry that meets the product performance requirements. This technique essentially helps to determine how the designed structure carries the loads and what further modification can be done to achieve lightweight design.

However, topology optimization is certainly not a technique that should be applied directly. It is essential first to perform regular simulation process and the obtained results must also be validated prior to optimization.

The use of topology optimization is widespread in most industries, with aerospace being the prominent among all. The capability to reduce weight significantly brings down the cost associated with the material.

As such, products utilizing expensive materials can best benefit from this optimization technique. The use of this method also promotes innovative designs compared to conventional ones and provides manufacturers a competitive advantage both in terms of cost effectiveness as well as innovation.

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Bhaumik Dave
About the Author: Bhaumik Dave is a Sr. FEA consultant at Hi-Tech. He has applied his FEA expertise across several highly complex and big scale projects, consequently managing to seamlessly deliver as per the client requirements.