Enabling Design for 3D Printing in the 3D Pioneers Challenge

29 Jan, 2021

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Winning fuel-cooled oil cooler design in the Digital category for the 3D Pioneers Challenge 2020

Winning fuel-cooled oil cooler design in the Digital category for the 3D Pioneers Challenge 2020

nTopology is sponsoring the 3D Pioneers Challenge 2021. This year's challenge focuses on not just the design of a part but the entire process. What does this mean to you? You get free access to nTopology for a month to enhance your 3DPC submission, and a chance to win a year's license of nTopology

This article was first published on

Come up with a novel and exciting idea. Prototype it. Create a great looking part. Test the design with customers. Replicate this process 100.000 times. Scale is achieved! Right? 

Well, maybe not exactly… However, Additive Manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, has sort of followed that trajectory over the last 30+ years. 

Now, AM is being used across a wide range of industries and sits in the pantheon of manufacturing methods alongside milling, injection molding, and other classics. As it becomes more common and widely accepted, it won’t be just for the experts. Engineers and industrial designers alike will be utilizing AM to its fullest potential. But how did it get there, and what does it mean?

Design for Additive Manufacturing: Past and Present

For many years AM was used for prototyping to solidify an idea for a product or part design. But with the materials evolving and machine technology moving forward by leaps and bounds, it became possible to create end-use parts. But this is old news. We all know this. 

Perhaps something less obvious is the business model widely used today in AM: pure contract manufacturing. Rather than designing and/or manufacturing for AM in-house, organizations opt to hire contract manufacturers to design their parts/products for AM. The reason is simple: these manufacturers have a deep understanding of and experience in designing for AM. They understand the machines through and through – they know instinctively what designs will work well for a given machine and what won’t. However, I think it’s safe to say that up until recently, additive manufacturing has focused just on parts. 

Any supply chain operator worth their salt will tell you that a good process makes anything scalable, sustainable, and successful. Accordingly, instead of individual parts, complete processes are now being developed, resulting in useful, repeatable applications. In the corporate environment, the time for experimentation is over, and the clear focus is on predictability.

Generative Design Software in AM

With the complexity and freedom that AM offers – it also creates a massive headache when designing in traditional CAD software. However, generative design software can be a solution. 

As a broad design methodology, generative design includes all goal-driven and computational approaches to engineering. The software is used to generate geometry based on a set of logical operations and user-defined rules. 

If used correctly, generative design can help you accelerate product development, lead to the development of better products, and (most importantly to this blog post) enable you to take full advantage of advanced and additive manufacturing technologies. 

Most generative design software tools out there are built upon the same premise and make assumptions about your engineering methods. Many software vendors have turned to things like AI or machine learning to help predict (or find) the best solution to continually improve their offering. 

Something missing from this approach is the element of predictability, repeatability, and control over both the produced geometry and the entire optimization workflow. The best tools are those that you can modify to your specific needs — in other words, allowing the software to let the user control the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ — effectively tailoring the software to their needs and not the other way around.  

nTopology is the only generative design solution today that does that. It gives engineers and designers direct and predictable control over every aspect of the process and its outputs, making no assumptions about your engineering workflow or specific needs. To read more about this, read our blog Generative Design Tools That Put You In Control.

The Paradigm Shift

Now that I’ve briefly discussed how AM has achieved its wide use across industries: better hardware, better software, and the experience and expertise of contract manufacturers, you might be wondering what it means? 

It means we need to develop good processes to push the boundaries of AM and help engineers and industrial designers realize what used to be impossible. 

This paradigm shift will irrevocably push AM beyond what we think is possible and it is reflected in this year’s 3D Pioneers Challenge.

But first, let’s back up. What is the 3D Pioneers Challenge?

3D Pioneers Challenge

The 3D Pioneers Challenge is an AM Design Challenge with the largest reach anywhere in the world. It is supported by German government agencies, CAD giants like Autodesk, subject matter experts like Sonita Lontoh from HP, from respected researchers from Fraunhofer to internationally recognized design authorities such as Ross Lovegrove. Unsurprisingly, nTopology won in the Digital 2020 category for our novel fuel cooled oil cooler design

Winning fuel-cooled oil cooler design in the Digital category for the 3D Pioneers Challenge 2020 

nTopology & 3D Pioneers Challenge Partnership

As 2020 comes to a close and we enter 2021, nTopology and the founders 3D Pioneers Challenge decided to officially partner – and it all makes complete sense. Here’s why. 

We are partnering because nTop Platform doesn’t allow you to just design parts; it allows you to design a process. You can then take that process, which encapsulates expert knowledge specific to your organization (or product family) and disseminate it across your entire organization. In other words, nTop Platform offers experts the opportunity to pour their process knowledge into repeatable recipes, which effectively become a tool to create different parts with the same ‘rules’ (or ingredients if we follow the recipe analogy). 

nTop Platform is a result of this market development and therefore a symbol for it.

3D Pioneers Challenge is the leading competition for AM design and has been living this paradigm shift for years. What’s more, is that under the umbrella of 3DPC & Friends, 3DPC brings together the creative minds and high-tech pioneers of the 3DPC platform in an interdisciplinary way, resulting in new, groundbreaking projects in which everyone can contribute and live out their expertise — design rethought! The 3DPC shows today what tomorrow will bring — pushing boundaries.

What’s in it for You?

Our partnership isn’t just for marketing purposes; actually, you get the benefit!

  • First, we offer a free, one month trial of nTopology to those who don’t have a license.
  • Second, two winners in the competition will win a one-year license of nTopology!
  • Third, we will be offering a free, two-hour online workshop to help you get started with nTopology.

Christoph Völcker, co-founder of the 3D Pioneers Challenge, says of the partnership:

“We are thrilled to be partnering with nTopology in the 3D Pioneers Challenge for 2021. Their software not only helps engineers and designers realize their ideas but, more importantly, allows them to be pioneers in their field. We cannot wait to see the designs from participants that use nTopology.”  

Register for the competition and request your trial of nTopology: visit the 3D Pioneers Challenge registration page. Be sure to check the box on registration that you want to use nTopology and a member of the nTop team will be in touch with you shortly. 

This article was first published on the nTopology blog.

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