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Advances in computer technology and software increasingly encourage the usage of CAD tools for designing forms that algorithmically manipulate ‘structural’ and ‘surface’ features. These sophisticated new computational processes, broadly known as ‘generative design’ and ‘topology optimisation’, are very likely to become a regular part of the product design process for many types of products. A core value of design practice is the development of intuition and iterative skills to explore the technical and experiential performance of design concepts through sketching, model making, and prototyping. Identifying ways to integrate ‘generative design’ and ‘topology optimisation’ CAD processes with ‘making’ as a core value in product design concept development is a significant challenge - particularly for design education. A related concern is that ‘topology optimisation’ can generate structurally optimised parts for the amount and type of material used, which essentially determines the fabrication method. Often these parts in their raw form can only be made using 3D printing technologies, though they can (and often need to) be ‘styled’ or modified. Therefore, the relationship to 3D printing and its limitations as an end-part manufacturing technology must be critically tested as part of the design process. The practice-led research presented includes a case study of the design of a mountain bike (MTB) crank arm developed using an integrated design process that incorporates a series of ‘topology optimisation’ simulations. The authors undertook the project to inform the design of a new ‘generative design’ and ‘topology optimisation’ studio-based subject to be offered to second and third-year product design students at the University of Technology Sydney. The research proposes a form of integrated design practice that values ‘making’ iteratively, and the advancing CAD-based ‘generative design’ and ‘topology optimisation’ tools to responsibly support experiential learning in product design, manufacturing and engineering.
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