Bay Area tech giants join forces to turn ideas into printed objects

LIVERMORE, Calif. (KGO) -- If you're riding a high-speed super bike, you want to stay between the lines. But if you're designing one, why not blur them? Engineers at Bay Area based Autodesk are using a radically new computer design system dubbed Dream Catcher to do just that. In this case, making a swing arm for one of the world's fastest motorcycles.

Instead of just drawing shapes with traditional blueprint software, the designer also enters parameters like strength, materials and how the part needs to work with the rest of the motorcycle.

"By going over here to the explorer interface, we can now see all the various alternatives that have been produced by the system," Autodesk engineer Dr. Michael Bergin demonstrated.

Those dots on the screen mark dozens of potential prototype that pop to life with the click of a mouse. The most promising can be fabricated on a 3D printer. Design director Mark Davis calls it generative design. "I think it's revolutionary. I think that it's going to be a whole new set of tools for designers," he said.

But shaping dreams in plastic is only the beginning. That's why Autodesk is joining forces with engineers at the Lawrence Livermore Lab. The goal, is to design and print objects out of sophisticated materials, never possible before.

"We're able to print things that have feature sizes on the order of a human hair and we can also shrink the feature size actually to a 10th the size of a human hair," says Dr. Eric Duoss, research engineer at Livermore.

He says those tiny strands are formed into thousands of micro-structures to create unique materials, designed to behave in a specific way. The team is now working with Autodesk to design a super shock absorbing helmet.

"So for a low speed impact, you may one type of micro-structure, and for a high-speed you may need a different architecture," Livermore engineer Dr. Dan White said.

They say the concept can be applied to metals, carbon-fiber and future materials that haven't even been invented yet. And the two groups are hoping the partnership of groundbreaking software and cutting edge printing will ultimately turn dream designs into material reality.

The initial partnership, including the helmet project, is scheduled to last over the next year and a half.

Written and produced by Tim Didion
Copyright © 2021 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.