Collier Research's NASA-spinoff software, HyperSizer, has been used widely in military and commercial aircraft as well as space-agency programs for 20 years. Collier has released a new “Express” version of its design tool to support industries outside aerospace. The tool optimizes the shape of composite materials to make lighter, stronger, more durable products. Collier wants to offer its aerospace product as a tool to design automotive components or sport products such as snowboards, tennis racquets, medical prostheses, and mountain bikes.
One of Collier’s research engineers, Bertram Stier, is a mountain bike enthusiast. Stier used HyperSizer to create a stronger, lighter mountain bike. “HyperSizer optimizes the composite structure of all types materials, including both metallic and composite,” Stier told Design News. “Express finds out the optimum shape as well as the best material. It takes different types of requirements into account, and it takes out weight without sacrificing safety. The aim is to reduce weight.
The HyperSizer interface is designed to quickly step users through the process work flow. The process starts by importing a FEM and the FEA computed stress resultants (element forces). Users select the material, the analyses to perform, and the design criteria such as layup rules. The tool then iterates with FEA (Nastran, Abaqus, ANSYS, Optistruct) to converge load paths and to resolve buckling and displacement stiffness constraints.
Taking the Weight Out of a Mountain Bike
HyperSizer is loaded with materials data. As new materials are introduced, their physical attributes are entered so the software can analyze and optimize product shape to deliver the required strength at the lowest possible weight. “We take in material properties. If you have a material that is twice as strong. We tell it that it can bear twice as much load,” said Stier. “In composites, there is a high number of material parameters just for the plies. With composites, it’s a whole stack of plies.”
To Stier, applying NASA-developed technology to mountain bikes is a natural transfer, only easier. The mountain bike has the advantage of not having to comply with the FAA. “There are commonalities between aerospace and bikes. The material will break at the same point, but the FAA has certain regulations that the wing needs to fulfill. The bike doesn’t not have to follow those rules,” said Stier. “You can build-in constraints you want. Express will respect that. Yet the typical bike designer would not choose to adhere to those constraints. The more rules you have the smaller your design space.”
Don’t’ Mess with My Style
Collier turned to mountain bikes to show how well a NASA tool could improve a consumer product. “To demonstrate the capabilities in Express, we chose to dive deep into the example of a bike frame because it contains aspects of the challenges in industrial applications,” said Stier. “The bike became pretty much our gold standard. We said that if we can do a great composite bike frame design, we can do a great anything.”
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There is one constraint in consumer-product design that doesn’t show up in aerospace: style. Consumer products may not have the regulatory requirements of aerospace, but they do come with the constraints of style. In designing a consumer product such as a mountain bike, companies seek style elements that can supersede physical optimization. “Many OEMs seek a certain design for their products,” said Stier. “When you see the front of a Mercedes, you know it’s a Mercedes. That’s true of bikes as well. People want to speak a certain design language for their product, and they don’t want a computer to interfere even if it affects optimization. So, we design-in that design language while also taking care that we produce the lightest possible design for that geometry.”
Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.