The Top Won’t Pop – Topology’s Significance in the Manufacturing Industry

Manufacturing & Distribution

When thinking about the significant changes in the manufacturing industry over the past decade, topology has been at the core of the evolution, creating lightweight structures that have revolutionised manufacturing design. I wanted to take a look at how topology has become king and what it is doing within the manufacturing sector, as well as on a wider scale.



What is topology?

Topology is a form of mathematics that explores the relationship between shape and space within structures, it helps us identify the properties and understand which elements are integral to an object’s form. Topology is used throughout the manufacturing industry to optimise products, which has resulted in highly efficient structures that produce less waste, improve product performance, and reduce production costs.


Optimisation and efficiency

Topology optimisation is key to improving the manufacturing industry by creating structures that are tailor-made for specific applications. Computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software has revolutionised manufacturing processes by simulating material behavior and structures, eliminating the need for extensive prototype testing. Additionally, topology optimisation plays a significant role in electrical manufacturing, optimising the arrangement of components in circuits or networks to minimise power consumption while maximising usage capabilities.



The Rise of Additive Manufacturing

Topology has risen in importance due to its strong ties with additive manufacturing (3d printing). Additive manufacturing was once relegated to the production of prototypes, but is now used to produce unique structures that can’t be made through any other manufacturing method, increasing demand for working mechanical components an exponential scale. Traditional manufacturing consisted of removing material to produce an outcome, whereas additive manufacturing allows for material to be layered up to produce a new structure. Additive manufacturing has a new edge on former methods due to its ability to construct complex geometries that would previously have been hard to create with more traditional manufacturing methods.


How has topology transformed manufacturing?

Topology allows for manufacturing to be produced through constraint development. As manufacturing has many pre-existing specifications, the ability to begin with these constraints allows for the design proposal to fulfil the requirements with only minor adaptations needed in the following iterations. Designers have found topology optimisation to discover unusual structures through measuring the key pressure points in a design. This is something that is more challenging for humans to design without the help of a machine; topology has created unanticipated design concepts that have then been utilised along a spectrum of designs throughout the sector.

There are different topology approaches within manufacturing these include:

  • The density approach: used regularly in aerospace design, allowing for the development of lightweight aircraft components that hold structural integrity whilst keeping the weight down.
  • The level set approach: regularly used in medial implants, allowing for the replacement of bones that are bespoke to each patient. The topology allows for a tight fit whilst also considering the load-bearing capacity and stress distribution.
  • The evolutionary approaches: a lot like natural selection, this method is used when creating iterations of cars to ensure each element is completely optimised, it analyses the performance criteria and create iterations until it reaches its optimal configuration.
  • Combination of approaches: in practice, a combination of approaches can be used to achieve the most thorough results

The density approach is the most mature and developed and uses element-constant density to describe the structural topology, it is renowned for its efficiency and stability. However, it does not result in the easiest-to-transcribe outcomes due to being displayed in terms of element density and lacking the basic geometric features such as lines and points. This results in a interpretation of the topology optimisation which is labour intensive and skilled.


Exploration into development

In 2016, new developments into additive manufacturing found that the solid shells with no interior being recommended by the topology science were perhaps not the most efficient due to a risk of buckling.  Although the shells removed the need for high amounts of manufacturing material, the new ‘coating approach’ encouraged further durability. The new approach looked at the structure of animal bones and plant stems and the link between their hard outer shell and porous interior. This concept differed to the balancing of tension and compression created by topology, encouraging movement within the core of the object, the mesh helps the structure to withstand heavier pressures, hence increasing the buckling load capabilities.


To Conclude

The importance of topology in the manufacturing industry lies in its ability to enhance product performance, improve resource efficiency, optimise manufacturing processes, and foster innovation. By leveraging topology optimisation techniques, manufacturers can stay competitive, reduce costs, and deliver products that meet the demands of today’s dynamic market. Topology has produced flexibility within the manufacturing and design sector, allowing for new a period of development, exploration, and experimentation. The capabilities that topology brings to the industry are still very much being explored and leave exciting prospects to the future of manufacturing design.


By Ella Bertrand on 24/05/2023