Credit: Autodesk

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Autodesk have engaged in a multi-year collaborative research project to investigate new approaches for building interplanetary landers.

The concept lander, perhaps the most complicated structure ever created using “generative design,” was unveiled today at Autodesk University in Las Vegas.

Credit: Autodesk

Design solutions

Generative design is a relatively new approach that uses machine intelligence and cloud computing to quickly generate a broad set of design solutions that fit within the specific constraints set by engineers. It enables design teams to explore a much wider design space while still being bound by manufacturing and performance requirements dictated by the team or environment, according to an Autodesk press statement.

A commercial form of generative design technology is available today in Fusion 360, Autodesk’s cloud-based product development platform.

Credit: Autodesk

Organic-looking shapes

Generative design is often associated with 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, which is well-suited for the complex, organic-looking shapes that the software produces based on user specifications.

For the lander project, the JPL team explored the use of experimental generative design technology for multiple structural components, including the internal structure that holds the scientific instruments, and the external structure that connects the lander legs to the main payload box. The team has been able reduce the mass of the external structure by 35% compared with the baseline design that they started with.

New designs quickly

A key benefit of generative design is that it enabled the JPL team to iterate their designs rapidly.

Credit: Autodesk

“As a design matures and new performance or environmental data comes in, generative design can enable our customers to create new designs quickly,” says Karl Willis, Autodesk’s technology lead on the project. Most design teams typically take 2-4 months to turn around a revised design. Working with generative design, that process can take place in 2-4 weeks, he adds.

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