Formnext 2018 was an exciting event for the additive manufacturing industry on the whole, with companies showcasing their most cutting-edge technologies for the world to see. One company in particular leveraged the global industry event to officially launch its first major product—one that promises to disrupt how industrial components are engineered and designed for AM. That company is California-based Paramatters Inc. and its groundbreaking product is its CogniCAD software platform.
Last spring, we had an in depth conversion with Paramatters’ founder and CTO Dr. Michael Bogomolny about the CogniCAD platform he and his team were developing. The potential of the generative design platform was evident to us back then, so to now see the platform officially launched for the AM market is genuinely exciting.
The software platform was already highly refined when we got a peek at it last May, but speaking again to Bogomolny after Formnext, it is clear that the release of CogniCAD comes with by a slew of innovative and cutting-edge updates, all aimed at drastically improving generative design for additive manufacturing.
Catching up with CogniCAD
“Last time we spoke, CogniCAD was still an experimental platform,” he tells me. “A few automotive companies, including Ford and Volkswagen, had already used it, but now we have made it available to everybody and have added many capabilities.”
To give the clearest picture of how the software actually works, Bogomolny takes me through the intuitive step-by-step interface, pointing out where the most significant changes and updates have been made. The first—a small one—is that many more materials have been added to the software’s library.
Moving ahead, he points out that CogniCAD now integrates a range of different load types, which users can apply to their models to ensure that the part will hold up to the physical stresses it is subjected to in real life.
“There are many types of loads we can consider,” he explains. “First, of course, are force and pressure. But we have also added acceleration (G-forces), which is very important for the aerospace industry, and will be adding thermal loads by the end of December this year.”
“If the user selects more than one object, we can also group them,” he adds. “We can group them and then we select a remote point, which we can apply force onto and that will correspond to the loads on the object.” To illustrate this point, he uses the example of a bracket which was designed to hold two optic cameras.
“If you know where the center of gravity is for both cameras, you can specify this and apply force and momentum to this remote point. This is a more accurate way of modeling. And once you’ve selected the remote point, you simply click ‘apply’ and the equivalent loads will be calculated.”
Generative design, two ways
This next update is arguably one of the most significant in CogniCAD, and it sets it apart from many of the other generative design software programs on the market.
Previously, CogniCAD had only one option for generative design exploration: minimum compliance per volume fraction, which entailed the user specifying the volume function for the part to generate an optimized topology. “It’s an easy way to solve the topology optimization problem,” Bogomolny elaborates. “But it’s not the best way for engineering applications, because the user doesn’t know the optimal volume fraction and has to change the volume fraction to find the best fit. In some cases the change in volume fraction wouldn’t be helpful to achieve the goals because design for stiffness and strength are different”
The second, more advanced option, which is now offered in the CogniCAD platform is targeted at lightweighting design and uses minimum mass as a design goal under stress constraints. This means that the user simply specifies their design goal—say, minimizing mass under certain stress constraints—and the part will be optimized without violating any stress constraints.
“This option is more computationally complicated,” Bogomolny adds. “So it takes more time. The first option, compliance, is easier, but if you want a good design, it is worth it to wait a bit longer. With partners at aerospace companies we actually tested our stress constraint design versus other software solutions and we outperformed them all.”
Presently, CogniCAD enables users to specify stiffness and stress constraints and soon the software will also feature vibration and deformation constraint functions. (This update is expected to launch in February 2019.)
A STEP in the right direction
Another key element that sets CogniCAD apart from other generative design platforms is that users now have the ability to export their models not only as STL files for 3D printing, but also as STEP files, to be easily re-uploaded into CAD design programs.
“We basically close the loop. The user imports STEP and at the end they can have STEP back, which is important in aerospace or other certification applications because the models should be documented in CAD, not just STL. We put a lot of effort to allow users to convert their models to STEP,” says the ParaMatters founder.
A guaranteed print
Another CogniCAD feature that Bogomolny highlights is feature size control, which ensures that designs generated using the software are always manufacturable in terms of minimum and maximum member size and wall thickness. Out of all the designs generated through the platform, Bogomolny says that all of them were manufacturable.
“In my eyes, this is one of the most important components in generative design,” he adds. “And we have a really unique way of doing this, we have a very robust mechanism for controlling thicknesses.”
CogniCAD has also been updated to maintain certain sharp features of imported models. Previously, the generative design software would smooth sharp edges, but now they can be preserved and seamlessly integrated into the optimized design.
Though we addressed CogniCAD’s mesostructural optimization capabilities in our last coverage of Paramatters, it is still worth highlighting the software’s state-of-the-art functionality. The feature essentially combines topology optimization with internal porosity, resulting in extremely complex internal geometries that go beyond uniform lattice structures.
That is, CogniCAD is capable of generating internal geometries that are tailored to the part in question to meet stress and force requirements. As Bogomolny succinctly explains it, the software generates structures that are aligned with the part’s principle stresses. The higher the resolution used (CogniCAD can go up to 60 million elements), the more complex and optimized the internal structure is. “I’m not aware of any software today that generates these unique designs automatically,” he says.
“Many people have asked how powder is removed from the printed part,” he continues. “Right now, the solution is to make a few holes in the design. Fortunately, 95% of all the cavities in [the example part] are interconnected, so by adding a few holes, the powder can be drained out. The additional advantage of these structures is redundancy for local failure. In aerospace, critical parts are designed for fail safes, meaning that if one member fails, the part will still carry the load until it can be fixed or replaced.”
In some cases, Paramatters is looking ahead with its CogniCAD platform, anticipating design tools that will be needed as hardware advances. Multi-material metal printing is one example of this. In short, the software enables users to assign different metals to various parts of component to optimize strength while reducing material costs. For instance, a part could be made from titanium where stresses are high and aluminum where the stresses are lower. In the CogniCAD platform, multimaterial designs can now be visualized in 3D.
“We have spoken to a few companies with multi-material printing capabilities,” says Bogomolny. “For instance, we have been in touch with Boston-based Digital Alloys, which is very interested in using our technology for some prototypes.”
“This platform wasn’t available to users before Formnext,” Bogomolny emphasizes. “We have four or five big users—I already mentioned Ford and Volkswagen, but we also had from GE Power and others. Now that we are available to the public, we’ve already had many users sign up.”
Regarding the business model, he explains that CogniCAD operates based on a token system. “Since it’s a cloud-based application, users have to purchase tokens and when they run their design problem, we deduct tokens proportionally to usage. We’ve done it like this because every time a user runs a design we pay for computational time, so we need to cover those expenses.”
“For big corporations or companies that work with private clouds, we can install the software on their private cloud,” he adds. “We also have different payment plans for the tokens that users can choose from. For corporations we have a separate plan.”
“Right now, we are primarily talking with companies from automotive and aerospace. And, of course, with 3D printing companies themselves. They understand that design tools like this help to drive the adoption of 3D printing. To redesign a part for AM you need a tool like this that goes beyond traditional CAD. Paramatters is interfacing between industries and 3D printing and CAD companies—somehow we’ve carved our space in the middle of these.”
“I believe that what we provide here is really the best in class solution,” he concludes. “We still need to clean things up here and there and to add some other features. But even as it is now, CogniCAD is—I’m pretty sure—the best generative design solution on the market today.