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How is generative design revolutionizing the automotive industry?

21 June 2024

Generative design is transforming the way we think about vehicle design and manufacturing. By using advanced algorithms and the high computing power of today's computers, automotive manufacturers are able to come up with increasingly creative, efficient and innovative material or design solutions. 

What is generative design? 

Generative design uses computer algorithms to create a number of different design solutions based on specific parameters and conditions. Unlike traditional automotive design and manufacturing processes, which typically involve the manual creation of a single concept, generative design allows the automatic definition of hundreds of variants and scenarios, which are then evaluated and optimized based on well-defined criteria. This approach is used today in various fields such as architecture, engineering and applied design. It allows a very wide range of design options to be traced, often too complex to process in the traditional, manual way. Key aspects of generative design include: 

  • automation and efficiency – algorithms quickly analyze all available design options, saving time and resources, 
  • optimization – the ability to simultaneously evaluate multiple options in terms of various parameters, such as cost, strength, weight, or aesthetics, 
  • innovation – generating unique solutions that would be nearly impossible to conceptualize and implement using traditional methods, 
  • personalization – customization of designs to meet individual user needs or specific functional requirements. 

The ever-increasing computing power of modern computers makes it possible to process a considerable number of design permutations that far exceeds the capabilities of the human brain. Such a process produces an optimal design that takes into account many complex variables, creating simulations that faithfully mimic the interrelationships occurring in nature, society and the immediate human environment. 

Benefits of implementing a generative design 

Generative design is particularly useful today in the automotive industry, which is facing ever  increasing normative and technical restrictions related to environmental protection, energy efficiency and safety. Adapting production methods, vehicle designs and business strategies to the changing automotive landscape is becoming more and more complex and requires constant innovation. Generative design methods and so-called topological optimization are contributing to the creation of innovative, lightweight and robust components. They aim to improve a car's fuel efficiency, as well as reduce CO2 emissions – not only at the operating stage, but also in the course of manufacturing and disposal of the vehicle. In addition, they enable rapid adaptation to market trends and expectations, which have been changing more and more frequently in recent times. Through optimization by eliminating unnecessary components, costs can be reduced, product development time can be shortened and innovative concepts can be tested without additional expenses. For many companies, generative design is the answer to the ever-present question: how to increase efficiency in the automotive industry? 

Reduce production costs through more efficient use of materials 

Part of the rear seat of a car manufactured in our factory.
Part of the rear seat of a car manufactured in our factory.

Generative design is not only an innovative approach to creating complex designs, but also an effective tool used by automotive manufacturers to reduce costs at the Design for Manufacturing analysis stage. With the help of algorithms that take into account various factors such as strength, weight, cost of materials and overall manufacturing processes, optimal designs can be achieved, where available resources are used in the most efficient manner. In principle, every component of a vehicle, from the smallest bolt to seats to body components, has the potential for topological optimization involving, among other things, material reduction. Generative design algorithms can sift through millions of design possibilities to find those that offer the best performance-to-cost ratio. For example, to reduce the cost of plastic parts, they can suggest using a different material or changing the shape of a part to reduce its weight without sacrificing strength. This can lead to significant savings, both in terms of material costs and energy needed for mass production and transportation. As a result, automotive companies can become more competitive and sustainable, which is crucial in the dynamic automotive world. 

Learn more: Examples, types and application of mass production

Reduce the time it takes to develop new products 

The traditional design process requires time to browse thousands of pages for inspiration and data on components used to date. Creating and revising 3D models manually usually took months and was subject to tight deadlines, limiting creative freedom and compromising the quality of the design, which often still needs revisions at the end. Today, quickly transforming 2D sketches into complex 3D models with the help of AI allows for increased productivity and better results in the area of manufacturing and design with a design thinking approach. By automatically creating multiple design iterations in a short period of time, generative design allows for a significant reduction in the time needed for new product development. This means that automotive companies today can bring new vehicle models to market faster (reducing Time To Market) and respond more efficiently to changing customer needs and expectations. The first step in the process is to define design criteria, such as requirements for mechanical strength, weight, manufacturing costs and design-related features. Generative algorithms then search the design space, evaluating various solutions. This allows them to quickly identify those solutions that meet specific requirements. In addition, the ability to perform virtual strength tests and simulations enables the rapid detection and elimination of potential problems.  

Read more: What is Time To Market and how to reduce the value of this parameter in the automotive industry?

Multi-variant testing at no additional cost 

Designing with the help of generative technologies makes it possible to test many different variants of a component without the additional cost of prototyping and the associated material outlay. This allows R&D departments to freely conduct extensive analysis and highly complex testing of new components. This not only helps to avoid mistakes and get needed certifications faster, but can even lead to new, unprecedented technological, material or design solutions. Automakers can test, for example, different variants of reinforcement frames, bumpers or engine components for various parameters such as mechanical strength, durability, functionality or performance even before these are actually produced. Using advanced visualization and detailed simulation techniques, as well as 3D printing, engineers can experiment with different solutions and select those that offer the best results. According to data reported by the McKinsey studio, automotive companies' R&D processes have improved by 10-20% just through generative design. Artificial intelligence is considered the greatest ally in the area of product development support especially in original equipment manufacturer (OEM) companies, as it helps them build a business strategy based on innovation. 

Examples of generative design applications in the automotive industry 

Generative design is used by many automotive companies today. Some use it to create lighter and more efficient parts, while others use it to develop more aerodynamically shaped bodies to increase speed, range and reduce energy consumption. For example, U.S. electric motorcycle maker, Lightning Motorcycles, uses artificial algorithms to optimize mechanical components, such as control arms, among others. General Motors is using generative design based on artificial intelligence and cloud computing to explore various design solutions in the area of vehicle parts and components. According to some estimates, generative design can reduce the cost of manufacturing components by about 6 to 20%, reduce their weight by 10 to 50%, and cut development time by 30 to 50%. An ideal material for the automotive industry that can help achieve such results is the ultralight and extremely strong EPP (expanded polypropylene) material, which is successfully replacing traditional, heavier materials used in the areas of passive safety, interior equipment or even protection for car batteries and fuel tanks, among other things. 

The future of generative design in the automotive industry 

Generative design AI is already an integral part of Industry 4.0, and thanks to the continued development of the technology, we can expect it to play an increasingly important role in the automotive industry. It is possible that in the future all new vehicles will be designed using only generative technologies. However, it is predicted that artificial algorithms will not replace human designers for at least another 20-30 years, but will only be an effective support for them. A complete transition to generative design requires not only further development of this technology to the point where it can, for example, independently evaluate aesthetic qualities or understand cultural aspects, but also social acceptance. One of the most important areas where generative design can have a significant impact is the development of electric and autonomous vehicles. This is one of the fundamental technologies that will enable the transition from internal combustion engine (ICE) technology to electric vehicles (EVs). By optimizing the shape and weight of components, the range and efficiency of EVs can be gradually increased, which is key to their further diffusion. 

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