3D Printing: Optimal Generative Design with ParaMatters

It’s no secret that people in the brake industry are interested in 3D printing.

The technology may — or may not — revolutionize engineering, manufacturing, and distribution. It may – or may not – do so in the near future.

The BRAKE Report spoke with Michael Bogomolny, one of the founders of ParaMatters, as our first dive into the growing world of 3D printing.

ParaMatters is an engineering Generative Design software company started about two and a half years ago. Its primary product is a cloud-based software platform that creates what Bogomolny calls optimal lightweighted design. “We’re here to augment engineers,” he says, by freeing them from repetitive, time-consuming work that could be automated.

Bogomolny uses the term “digital thread” to describe an efficient 3D-printing workflow. It starts with design, moves to preparing and printing the part, then post-processing, inspection, and certification.

“It doesn’t make sense to take an existing design for traditional manufacturing and 3D print it,” he says. “We need to redesign for 3D printing.” The vital design step creates cost savings by lowering the weight of the part or by consolidating multiple parts into one. Smart, money-saving design is the heart of 3D printing. Design can create cost justification.

“3D printing can generate very complex shapes. If you can generate almost any shape, you have to redesign to leverage the ability to create these complex shapes,” he says.

The problem, as Bogomolny describes it, as that traditional CAD software is poorly suited to designing 3D-printed parts. In fact, it’s a time-consuming, labor intensive and frustrating process even for parts made with injection molding or subtractive manufacturing.

The CAD engineer or designer creates the basic shape. “He draws it the way that seems most intuitive to him,” Bogomolny says. Then he sends it to a CAE or stress engineer to test the design. This engineer can send it back to the CAD designer, in an iterative process that can take weeks or months. “It’s human-centric. If you take two different engineers, they’ll design a little different part,” he says. Once the part is finalized, it goes to a manufacturing engineer who decides whether the part is makeable.

The ParaMatters Generative Design process is altogether different. An engineer inputs a bounding box (the available design space); mounting points; loads; material properties; and design goals, for example, minimizing weight.

The algorithm digests these inputs and comes back with the optimal shape to carry the load. The output can be sent directly to the printer as a STL file or uploaded into any CAD software as STEP. The algorithm only requires hours to run, depending on the complexity of the part.

“Manufacturing drives new design methods” Bogomolny explains.

To illustrate his point, Bogomolny uses the example of a hydraulic manifold ParaMatters designed for an aerospace company. The original was “a block of material with a bunch of holes.” Sharp corners interrupted smooth flow. Design and manufacturing limitations meant the manifold was heavy.

Redesigned and 3D printed, the manifold is 50% lighter with much improved flow. Due to the complexity of the design, the algorithm required about 12 hours to create an optimal design. But working with CAD to design channels and then connect them could take months.

Bogomolny is excited about a forthcoming development from Paramatters. “Looking into the future, we can also design for two materials,” he says. Instead of printing in just steel, aluminum, or titanium, printing can occur with a mix of metals or even metal and plastic. This will allow more expensive material to be used where it is required and less expensive material to be used where appropriate.

Bogomolny is hesitant to make exact predictions, but he sees the rise of 3D printing as inevitable. Material quality will increase, speed will go up, and costs will go down. He does offer one surprising take, saying that the first brake parts widely produced from 3D printing will be plastic, not metal.  

Although many manufacturers already have teams dedicated to 3D printing, Bogomolny acknowledges the price of buying a high-quality printer may deter other firms. “You have to start with the design,” he reiterates, saying that Paramatters offers quick and easy solutions for placing design software and hardware on site and that there are many printing service bureaus that companies can use as they explore 3D printing.

Send us a note with your thoughts, concerns, or questions about 3D printing and we’ll do our best to respond in future articles on the topic.

Ben Nussbaum
Ben Nussbaum

Ben Nussbaum, Chief Content Officer of The Brake Report, has more than 20 years experience in publishing. He was the founding editor for USA Today's line of special interest magazines and the founding editor for i5 Publishing's newsstand one-off magazine program. He lives outside Washington, D.C. Email him at [email protected].