ASME Innovative Design Simulation Challenge: Short Order Optimized Parts

By Roger Torda/ASME Public Information


Alex Buehler presenting his work on the design and printing of an optimized prototype.

“From Design Problem to Optimal Prototype in Under One Hour.” That was both the title and goal of the challenge Alex Buehler set for himself for ASME’s inaugural Innovative Design Simulation Challenge (IDSC). Alex, a rising senior in mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, sought to demonstrate the power of modern techniques to greatly speed up the process of part design, optimization and prototype manufacture.

“3D printing, because you are building it from bottom up, there’s no geometric limitations,” Alex said, sharing his enthusiasm for the technology. He spoke during an interview after presenting his work at the IDSC competition in August, in Buffalo, New York.  “You can build really crazy structures.”


Alex Buehler receiving his certificate from Dr. John Michopoulos (center) and Dr. Cameron Turner.

“Crazy” optimized structures can now be made, using 3D printing. But the optimization process can remain a challenge. In the past, optimization was handled through iterative trial and error. Now it is performed by computer software. But without some effective shortcuts, software runs can take days. Alex showed how the latest computer and modelling techniques can speed things up.

Alex’s project grew out of work carried out in an undergraduate research program at UW-Madison. Alex’s advisor for the research was Dr. Krishnan Suresh.


Basic gripper arm, left; gripper arm after optimization, right.

Alex started with an Autodesk design problem – a gripper arm for a robot that can analyze meteors. Autodesk sought a design to reduce mass while being able to withstand 20,000 newton resistance applied to the gripping surface with a deformation no greater than 8mm and a safety factor of 3 or greater. 

Alex used a program developed by Dr. Suresh’s team called “PareTOWorks,” to optimize a design for the gripper using finite element analysis (FEA). Alex reports that such topology optimization can often take days. But PareTOWorks uses a technique called Limited-Memory FEA, to greatly reduce the distinct number of elements in the computations. In five minutes and 11 seconds, the program generated a design optimized to 50% of its original volume.


Basic Gripper arm design, left; 3D-printed, optimized gripper arm, right.

Alex then took his design to a machine shop for 3D printing. Printing the optimized gripper arm took 42 minutes.

Alex won the IDSC competition in the Mixed Software category. His work was also cited as Best Integrated Design Tool Simulation.

He said the experience was valuable for the opportunity to learn from peers from all over the world, and for the opportunity to take a research project out of the lab. “I think it was a great learning experience,” Alex said. “The presentation itself can prepare you for real world experiences… and getting to know your peers in the field is a good networking opportunity. I’d definitely recommend it.”