Generative Engineering in current TCT magazine

Sam Davies talks with Moritz Maier in the current TCT magazine about Generative Engineering, which gives “users access to the entire product development workflow”.

Piling suitcases, laptops and sample parts into the back of a van. Progressing from microscopically small plankton organisms to bionic lightweight construction. ELISE GmbH, embarking on an eight-hour road trip in November 2019 from Bremerhaven to Frankfurt, having previously spent ten years inside The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, is in the mood to talk about its journey.

The company’s origins are in the research of single-cell plankton organisms called diatoms which need to float to get maximum intake via photosynthesis and require a permeable structure to take in nutrients. Over the years, Daniel Seigel, Sebastian Möller and Dr. Moritz Maier, the eventual co-founders of ELISE, would study plankton organisms, seeking to harness the lightweight construction principles of these microscopic entities and apply them in the fields of automotive, aerospace and more.

ELISE (Evolutionary Light Structure Engineering) started as a design service, with the co-founders deciding to pursue commercialisation in 2018 after positive feedback from clients. A six-month beta phase then attracted some of Germany’s most renowned manufacturers, each of which extended their usage of the software while more early access customers came on board too.

Weeks before Formnext 2019, where the start-up was showcasing applications from Premium Aerotec, Volkswagen and Brose, ELISE had joined the likes of Carbon, Desktop Metal and Xometry in being backed by BMW i Ventures. A sum of 3 million EUR was raised in the seed funding round led by the automotive giant’s venture capital arm after the Group’s Motorsport division had successfully deployed the ELISE platform during the beta programme.

The software that has caused such a stir as to result in BMW’s backing at this early stage combines generative design capabilities with process automation to create a single platform that houses tools for topology optimisation, stress analysis, fatigue analysis and more.

ELISE calls it ‘Generative Engineering’. “Let’s try to imagine a world where all the necessary steps and people needed for such a huge production are in one place and if you change something in the design you would instantly know the costs of the production, the weight, the simulation resolves, the displacement, the energy absorption; it’s all in one place and instantly available. This is the vision we have in mind,” Maier tells TCT.

Premium Aerotec’s application, meanwhile, is an auxiliary stabilising point which is installed between two frames in the lower shell at the rear side of an Airbus A320 passenger aircraft. Again combining ELISE with 3D printing, there is an 80% reduction in time and a 40% reduction in weight.

Both of these components have been designed from what ELISE calls their ‘technical DNA’. This incorporates input cells like manufacturing constraints, material properties, load case data and cost data; generative cells made up of bionic design algorithms and design templates; and evaluative cells, which take into account multiphysics simulations, support generation and printing analysis. This technical DNA then goes through modelling and design phases, then meshing and AM preparation, before finite element analysis and cost evaluations take the user to a view of the fully designed component.

According to Maier, the implementation of Generative Engineering is leading some companies to reconsider how they approach the designs of parts.

“It’s a completely new way of thinking,” he says. “This was the feedback that we got: ‘If we are using Elise, what we do is throw away our construction department, now we are all like process designers’. The teams come together and sit on the table: there’s the purchasing department, stress department, the development department and they are discussing their workflow, their product development process, and what it should look like.”

While bigger companies might have different departments for each step of the product development process, in plenty of firms one person will be responsible for the entire design workflow, suffering the multiple file imports and exports that go with it. ELISE’s software isn’t just designed to assist additive manufacturing users, but taking these processes as an example, the company believes this back and forth can impede the design freedom that 3D printing technology promises.

“We’ve done engineering services for eight years now – for seven years in additive manufacturing – and what we experienced is that it is a field where this design freedom comes along with complex design steps. We have tried out nearly every software on the market, starting from CAD tools, simulation tools, pre-processing tools, and it was a mess of software conversion and import and export steps. This process takes forever,” Maier bemoans. “If there’s a project timeframe of two or three months, then you can do little iterations and then the time is up. You cannot come up with new designs, you cannot create new ideas, you cannot explore design spaces. You get stuck in your old design and, therefore, a huge potential gets dropped when it comes to additive manufacturing.”

ELISE’s Generative Engineering platform is still in development, with early access available on request and most of the seed funding set to be used to further enhance the product. The company is not looking to add ‘super fancy’ features but instead make sure the platform is robust and easy to use. Indeed, the group hasn’t come this far to underwhelm visitors to its trade show stands nor disappoint the likes of Brose, BMW or MAN, all of whom had testimonials plastered on ELISE’s walls at Formnext.

The company is determined to provide these companies, and more once its Generative Engineering software is fully commercialised, with a platform that is simple, effective and doesn’t require them to carry out work in another software, unless they wish to.

How the company differentiates itself from the generative design solutions on the market is by giving users access to the entire product development workflow, rather than just the design phase. One thing they have in common, however, is that the value of the technology is not so much in the destination, but instead in the journey.

“The most critical point of this product is not the result in the end, it’s the way to the part,” Maier says. “If you design an aluminium part, you optimise the thicknesses and overhanging areas for the specific manufacturing technique, and somebody raises the question, ‘would it be cheaper in titanium?’ I have to redo the whole project to find that out. [But with ELISE,] you simply can change the parameter of the material and the rest of the process is 100% identical; all the cross-section optimisation, all the fatigue analysis is already there and recalculated automatically with the new material properties and you instantly know [the price].

“The final part you could do with a classical CAD system by hand, but the design possibilities behind it, this is the interesting part.”

Konsul-Smidt-Str. 8u
28217 Bremen (Germany)
Phone: +49 (0)421 22159700

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