DARPA Develops new Design Tools to Exploit Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies

DARPA’s TRAnsformative DESign (TRADES) program, which began in 2017, set out to develop foundational design tools needed to explore the vast space opened by new materials and additive manufacturing processes commonly called 3D printing. The program recently concluded having successfully developed new mathematics and computational techniques, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, that will allow future designers to create previously unimaginable shapes and structures of interest to defense and commercial manufacturing.

Manufacturing technology breakthroughs in recent years, such as 3D printing, have allowed precise material placement, new material behaviors, and complex shaping of parts and structures. Design tools, however, have not kept up with the complexity of the design space resulting from these advances.

In the past four years, TRADES has explored new ideas from mathematics and computer science that have allowed them to represent things – like parts and components – that are a million times more complex than current state-of-the-art systems can represent. They can now describe both shape and material in a coordinated way across multiple physics to allow intricate designs and to understand properties at every point on the produced part. The aim is to be able to mimic integrated hierarchical structures found in nature, where different sized structures respond to different types of physics.

That manual handling, moving data from design systems to analysis, absorbs 50% of the entire design cycle because the formats are not compatible and current systems can’t directly interoperate. TRADES has developed new concepts that would eliminate that bottleneck and accelerate the design process to include automated synthesis, where a computer explores design alternatives across multiple physics such as thermal, mechanical, electro-optic, and the like, without human intervention. This would turn computers into true collaborative partners to help create new designs that are not intuitive to even the best human designers.

TRADES is also enabling design for dynamic problems where structures change as time evolves, such as a solid-rocket engine, which changes its internal shape as the propellant burns.

The TRADES design tools have made significant headway in addressing the time and cost burdens associated with current design cycles for DoD platforms and should enable a rapid and effective response to new and evolving threats and requirements. This includes generating in-field spares where shaping accommodates some of the discrepancies caused by material substitutions.

The advanced design tools, processes, and algorithms developed in the TRADES program are poised to help increase the performance of DoD platforms; reduce the cost and time associated with materials and geometry selection, optimization, and numerical analysis; and enable exploration of new design concepts that are currently out of reach.

Click here to learn more about TRADES program.