EXCLUSIVE with nTopology, Inc. — Making Lattice Design an Integrated and Seamless Part of the Design Process


nTopology, Inc., based in New York, New York, USA, recently released a topology optimization software program called Element Free that provides engineers and designers with the ability to create complex structures using lattice design tools. Currently, Element Free is a free, Windows download application. The company has further plans to release a second software program, Element Pro, this summer.

nTopology Inc. at AM3D
Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
21-24 August, 2016

We caught up with Spencer Wright, Head of Product for nTopology Inc., to learn about topology optimization and nTopology Inc. in an exclusive AMazing® Q&A conversation.


AMazing®: Spencer, thank you for your participation. How would you define topology optimization?

Spencer Wright: Topology optimization looks at a part and tries to move material around (and hopefully remove it too) so that it’s as efficient as possible. Traditional topology optimization usually takes a design space (literally a 3D volume) and some loading conditions as inputs, and tries to either minimize mass or maximize stiffness on the output. But that’s just one approach to topology optimization: there are other ways to think of the design space, and other outputs that you can optimize for, and many strategies that you can take to get from one to the other.

Photo courtesy of nTopology Inc.

Photo courtesy of nTopology Inc.

In general I find conventional topology optimization to be a bit short sighted, and prefer to guide the design process through a specific design approach (usually including variable lattice structures). I also find the mass/stiffness criteria extremely limiting as a product manager, and prefer optimization software that takes printability and manufacturing process chain into account as well.

AMazing®: As stated on the company website, nTopology Inc. was founded with the goal to help engineers make better, 3D printed parts. What was the motivation for creating design software specifically for additive manufacturing?

Spencer Wright: Additive offers the chance to rethink the design process, and it has brought a new influx of talent and interest to engineering and manufacturing. As a product manager myself, I know that other manufacturing processes (moulding, milling, grinding, EDM, etc.) are key in bringing products to market. But as a CAD company, there’s a real opportunity to using design for AM as a testing ground for changes that we think the overall engineering industry might benefit from.

AMazing®: nTopology recently released a free, Windows download application called “Element Free” that will provide engineers and designers with the ability to create complex, interlaced lattice structures. Tell us about Element Free. What makes Element Free easier, more intuitive and more accessible to a growing market of designers and engineers interested in topology optimization?

Spencer Wright: Until additive manufacturing, there was never a need for CAD software to support 3D lattice design. Element Free brings together the core elements of the lattice design work that nTopology has been doing for years, and gives you a powerful set of tools to create highly variable structures quickly. Lattice design is all that it does, and it does that really well. In that respect it’s like any single-purpose tool, and you can think of traditional 3D CAD software like a Swiss Army knife.

Everyone knows that the corkscrew in your kitchen is way better at opening a bottle of wine than a Swiss Army knife is, and Element Free is way better at designing lattices than traditional CAD software. It’s just that nobody ever thought to devote energy to lattice design before, because additive manufacturing only just made it possible to manufacture lattices in the first place.

Image courtesy of nTopology Inc.

Image courtesy of nTopology Inc.

AMazing®: nTopology has plans to release a professional version called “Element Pro” this summer. What can you tell us about Element Pro? How is Element Pro ideally suited for additive manufacturing?

Spencer Wright: Let me start with this: I honestly believe that Element Free is the most powerful lattice design software on the market – paid or free. But if you want to do mechanical analysis, or optimize the orientation of your lattice for performance and/or printability, or really exploit the variable mechanical properties that lattices offer, then you’ll need a little more. We learned this in 2015, when we developed Element Beta and built a whole suite of bespoke tools to do things like simulation, morphing, warping, subdivision, and custom lattice rule building.

Image courtesy of nTopology Inc.

Image courtesy of nTopology Inc.

We’re now in the process of porting those (and a few new features) over as Pro modules that will live on top of Element Free. The first of these (out in late June) is a data exchange format that allows you to import and export lattices from Element to your favorite FEA and build processing software, and we’ll have a few additional modules coming out later in the summer.

AMazing®: Recently, Airbus and Autodesk showcased an A320 bionic partition (separates the passenger cabin from the galley) that replicated cellular structure and bone growth found in living organisms. Do you envision the use of lattice structure, optimized for additive manufacturing, will become commonplace in the next generation of additive manufacturing parts?

Spencer Wright: First, let me say that I think that The Living (Autodesk) did a really great job on that project. Their approach treated the structure at multiple levels (macrostructure; printed component; lattice), which is really necessary on any serious project.

As far as the future of lattices goes: There are a lot of applications where they will no doubt be useful – and many (especially in the medical implants field) that are already in production. There are certainly obstacles for many of these – surface finish is a big factor, as is the need for a new paradigm for documentation and inspection of highly complex parts. But the benefits are there – both in terms of improved performance and the reduced dimensionality of the design process.

Lattices make it extremely easy to design variable structures, and with nTopology Element we make lattice design an integrated and seamless part of your existing design process.

Image courtesy of nTopology Inc.

Image courtesy of nTopology Inc.

AMazing®: As we understand, you will be a presenter at this year’s ASME Additive Manufacturing + 3D Printing Conference (AM3D). What topics do you plan on presenting at AM3D?

Spencer Wright: I’ll be talking (unsurprisingly 😉 ) about lattice design! In particular, I’m very interested in how lattices – with all their complexity – actually help reduce the complexity of the design process. Looking forward to it!

This concludes our interview. Spencer, thank you very much for your participation. We are very grateful for the opportunity to learn about nTopology products and services and upcoming presentation at AM3D.


About Spencer Wright
Spencer Wright is VP of Product at nTopology, and is also widely known as “that guy who keeps blogging about printing DMLS and EBM bicycle components in titanium.” He writes extensively about industrial additive manufacturing, CAD software, and product engineering at http://pencerw.com.

About nTopology Inc.
nTopology makes CAD software that allows engineers to exploit and explore the design opportunities that 3D printing can offer. Their free lattice design software, Element Free, is available for download at http://ntopology.com/product.

About Additive Manufacturing + 3D Printing Conference & Expo (AM3D)
The AM3D conference was started to highlight the product design, manufacturing, and product validation challenges associated with the industrial adoption of additive manufacturing for the engineering community. This event assembles the leading technology developers, service providers, product designer and manufactures (users) to exchange technical knowledge on the adoption and application of additive manufacturing.

AM3D is co-located with International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference (IDETC/CIE) , which features cutting-edge Design Engineering research and development technologies which will change the future of product design and manufacturing. Conference attendees may attend technical session in either conference without any additional cost. https://www.asme.org/events/am3d-conference

About ASME
ASME helps the global engineering community develop solutions to real world challenges. Founded in 1880 as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, ASME is a not-for-profit professional organization that enables collaboration, knowledge sharing and skill development across all engineering disciplines, while promoting the vital role of the engineer in society. ASME codes and standards, publications, conferences, continuing education and professional development programs provide a foundation for advancing technical knowledge and a safer world.  For more information, visit www.asme.org.

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