Autodesk generative design used on electric VW bus concept

Autodesk generative design for VW Bus
Autodesk generative design for VW Bus

Volkswagen unveiled a vintage VW Bus retrofitted with some of the latest technologies that may be significant for the future of the industry.


With a focus on maximising strength and minimising weight, Autodesk collaborated with VW’s newly renamed Innovation and Engineering Center California (IECC) to reconceptualise several components of the electric-infused technical showcase vehicle.

One of the critical aspects of designing electric vehicles is finding weight savings wherever possible because the less an automobile weighs, the less energy required to propel it down the road. And more efficient energy consumption equates to greater range per charge.

Generative design in Fusion 360 gives the ability to make lighter-weight parts, minimising mass and material use while maintaining high performance standards and respecting engineering constraints.

The IECC team applied generative design to the wheels of its 1962 Type 2 11-window Microbus, completely rethinking the structure because lighter wheels not only reduce the overall weight of the car, they also lessen rolling resistance on the tires. The new wheels are 18% lighter than a standard set, and the overall development time from design to manufacture was cut from 1.5 years down to a matter of months.

“With generative design it’s possible to create structures that we, as human designers and engineers, could never have created otherwise,” said Andrew Morandi, senior product designer, Volkswagen.

Generative design was also used on the microbus project to re-imagine the steering wheel, as well as the support structure for the rear bench seating and the external side mirror mounts. While steering wheels are not heavy components, optimising it gives people a sense of how strong these parts can be in an object people will touch and use.

Beyond serving as a tool for design exploration and for making lighter, stronger parts, generative design technology creates an opportunity for faster workflows that allow designers to make better-informed design decisions.

“I see this project as kind of dipping our toe in the water with generative design. We’re testing the temperature and showcasing what the potential could be,” said Mr Morandi. “I’m hopeful that in maybe 10 to 15 years, we might see entire frames being generatively designed. It’s possible this could be part of a complete, fundamental change in automotive factories and how cars are manufactured.”

Last spring, General Motors used generative design in a proof-of-concept project to develop a lightweight seat bracket prototype for electric cars of the future. The technology is also proving its value for the future of space travel. In November, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory unveiled a generatively designed interplanetary lander prototype that could conceivably carry payloads more than 350 million miles from Earth.

“Today we don’t even understand to the full extent the potential of generative design. In the coming years we’ll have to figure out where human engineering combined with artificial intelligence can lead to lighter, smarter, more sustainable products,” said Nikolai Reimer, executive director of IECC. “This will revolutionise not just the products we’re making but also the ways that we work.”

Autodesk www.autodesk.com

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