It’s been said that shape complexity is on the verge of becoming free because of 3D printing. Indeed, in Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing, authors Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman claim that fabricating an ornate and complicated shape does not require more time, skill or cost than printing a simple block, and that 3D printing will disrupt traditional pricing models and change how we calculate the cost of manufacturing things.     

Autodesk’s recent release of Within certainly reinforces that premise. The software, which is based on technology from last year’s acquisition of London-based Within, allows designers and engineers to explore and computationally generate a range of optimal solutions for manufactured parts in the aerospace, automotive and medical industries, among others.       

"Generative design, advances in material science, and new fabrication techniques are allowing engineers to deliver components that were never before possible,” explains Mark Davis, Autodesk’s senior director of design research. “Autodesk Within enables designers to create high-performing parts while enforcing design rules and adhering to additive manufacturing constraints.” 

Using Within, designers and engineers can import models and use lattices and skins to add functional and aesthetic features, giving them the ability to optimize performance, weight and material usage without sacrificing structural integrity. Additionally, Within’s proprietary algorithms may enable engineers to develop parts and assemblies that are stronger and more reliable than traditionally designed ones, and at less cost.   

That’s an exciting development for many manufacturers, and for those involved in medical and direct metal printing applications in particular. Autodesk provides some compelling case studies involving a lightweight load-bearing engine block, a roll hoop structure for Formula One racing cars and a customized implant for cranioplasty. 

Using Within design optimization software, automotive designers can create a lightweight load-bearing engine block that offers uninterrupted fluid flow and superior performance, according to Autodesk.

These parts appear more organic than mechanical, and some of them could even be mistaken for abstract art. Imagine tools like Within being used in architecture, furniture and even clothing design, where cost and sustainable benefits can be realized in conserving material – all the while maximizing the functionality of the objects being produced.