Lawrence Livermore teams up with Autodesk to investigate design of next-generation materials

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) engineers Eric Duoss (left) and Tom Wilson use an additive manufacturing process called direct ink writing to develop an engineered “foam” cushion. Photo by George Kitrinos/LLNL
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) engineers Eric Duoss (left) and Tom Wilson use an additive manufacturing process called direct ink writing to develop an engineered “foam” cushion. Photo by George Kitrinos/LLNL

Researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and a Bay Area company are joining forces to explore how design software can accelerate innovation for three-dimensional printing of advanced materials.

Under an 18-month Cooperative Research and Development Agreement(CRADA), LLNL will use state-of-the-art software for generative design from San Rafael-based Autodesk Inc. as it studies how new material microstructures, arranged in complex configurations and printed with additive manufacturing techniques, will produce objects with physical properties that were never before possible.

In the project, LLNL researchers will bring to bear several key technologies, such as additive manufacturing, material modeling and architected design (arranging materials at the micro and nanoscale through computational design).

LLNL and Autodesk have selected next-generation protective helmets as a test case for their technology collaboration, studying how to improve design performance.

“As an organization that is pushing the limits on generative design and high-performance computing, Autodesk is an ideal collaborator as we investigate next-generation manufacturing,” said Anantha Krishnan, LLNL’s associate director for engineering.

“With its extensive cross-industry customer base, Autodesk can help us examine how our foundational research in architected materials and new additive manufacturing technology might transfer into a variety of domains.”

Mark Davis, Autodesk’s senior director of design research, called helmet design an excellent example of a design problem with multiple objectives, such as the constraints of desired weight, cost, durability, material thickness and response to compression.

“Giving the software goals and constraints as input, then allowing the computer to synthesize form and optimize across multiple materials, will lead to the discovery of unexpected, high-performing designs that would not have otherwise been pursued,” Davis added.

Patrick Dempsey, LLNL’s director of strategic engagements, noted: “Livermore is excited about combining its knowledge in materials and microstructures with the capabilities of a global leader in design software to demonstrate the ability of additive manufacturing to create new products.”

Through the application of goal-oriented design software tools, LLNL and Autodesk expect to generate and analyze the performance of very large sets – thousands to tens of thousands – of different structural configurations of material microarchitectures.

In addition to benefiting from the use of computer software, helmet design also stands to receive considerable advantages from additive manufacturing.

Helmets represent a class of objects whose internal structures not only need to be lightweight, but also must absorb impact and dissipate energy predictably.

Advanced additive manufacturing techniques are expected to allow the LLNL/Autodesk researchers to produce complex material microstructures that will dissipate energy better than what is currently possible with traditionally manufactured helmet pads such as foams and pads.

LLNL’s Eric Duoss, a materials engineer and the co-principal investigator for the CRADA with Lab computational engineer Dan White, believes the agreement could lead to new design methodologies with helmets as just one example.

“The difference in the design method we are proposing versus historically is that many of the previous manufacturing constraints can be eliminated,” Duoss said.

“Additive manufacturing provides the opportunity for unprecedented breakthroughs in new structures and new material properties for a wide range of applications,” Duoss added.

It has yet to be determined what kinds of helmets will be designed under the CRADA, but sports helmets, including football, baseball, biking and skiing, are possible, according to Duoss.

“One of the important things we hope to gain from this CRADA is to know what a great helmet design looks like, and we aim to build and test components of those helmet designs,” he said.

Within the past two years, the Lab’s Additive Manufacturing Initiative team has used 3D printing to produce ultralight and ultrastiff mechanical materialsthat don’t exist in nature (published in the journal Science), produced mechanical energy absorbing materials (published in Advanced Functional Materials) and printed graphene aerogels (published  in Nature Communications).

Francesco Lorio, primary investigator on the Autodesk team and a computational science expert, explains: “By combining the advanced additive manufacturing techniques at LLNL with our ability to compute shapes made of complex combinations of materials, we stand to find breakthrough designs for the helmet.” His team envisions a future where any product can be composed of bespoke materials “appropriately distributed at the micro and macro scale to optimally satisfy a desired function.”

Other LLNL staffers working on the project are: computational engineers Nathan Barton, Mark Messner and Todd Weisgraber; chemical engineer Tom Wilson, materials engineer Tim Ford, chemist Jeremy Lenhardt, applied physicist Willy Moss and mechanical engineer Michael King.

The Lab’s Additive Manufacturing Initiative team is developing new approaches to integrating design, fabrication and certification of advanced materials.

Using high-performance computing, new materials are modeled virtually and then optimized computationally. The Lab is simultaneously advancing the science of additive manufacturing and materials science, as demonstrated by its work in micro-architected metamaterials – artificial materials with properties not found in nature.

Autodesk Inc. is an American multinational software corporation that develops computer-aided design software for the architecture, engineering, manufacturing and entertainment industries. LLNL will be working with the firm’s in-house research group, Autodesk Research.