The issue behind the desire or necessity for redesigning parts for optimization purposes is typically one of cost vs. performance. Part optimization redesign can benefit almost any type of business. You see it being done in the manufacturing of everything from commercial airplanes to sports footwear, and from structural components designed for building construction to football helmets. Part materials involved include carbon steel and stainless steel, bronze, aluminum, and metal alloys.
Once the need has been established, the first step in optimization redesign is to construct a mathematical and/or digital model, which can be modified and verification tested to determine what the fully optimized part will look like. Fit and function generally remain unchanged, while form normally undergoes changes.
Finite element analysis (FEA) is usually the tool of choice, although there are other methods that can be used to create computer models of physical objects. Once a model of a part has been created, it can be assigned material properties matching those of the actual part.
When a part is submitted for optimization analysis, the engineer assigned to the task will take the digital model and its properties, and through the use of computing analysis software, manipulate the process variables. This process will continue until the target performance characteristics are met, at which time the optimized part can be manufactured.
FEA is not involved in actual manufacturing process, beyond providing via the digital model, the data relating to the part’s form and topology. The new part can be produced by stamping, forming, or casting in accordance with the model’s topology. NC machinery can be employed as well, and in an increasing number of instances, the redesigned part is produced by an additive manufacturing process; commonly referred to as 3D printing.
Optimized parts are typically used as replacements. They can also serve as prototypes for additional or ongoing performance studies.
This ability to create 3D digital models of the original part through FEA, and also create 3D models of the optimized part, provides precise analytical and manufacturing information that manual measuring techniques can seldom match. Part optimization redesign can therefore be achieved much quicker and at far less cost than was possible in the not-to-distant past.
The project lead is also aided by the availability of specialized topology optimization software tools. These tools use finite element processes to allocate material to those places where it is needed, and only to those places. This accounts for the Swiss cheese appearance of many redesigned parts, which tend to be much lighter than the original part, yet every bit as strong; or even stronger.
Finding the “best” of anything is often a frustrating exercise in trial and error and subjectivity. Thanks to engineering redesign and optimization tools now available, it is possible to create a “best part”, in terms of optimizing it to meet specific criteria.
A past example of part optimization involved Charles Lindbergh’s flight over the Atlantic. There were pilots with more experience than Lindbergh, and a great deal of money had been poured into designing longer-range aircraft, but none were capable of completing a trans-Atlantic flight. In the case of the Spirit of St. Louis, significant emphasis was placed on part optimization resulting in the construction of the airplane carried its pilot across the Atlantic.
A part optimization initiatives does not require engineering/sourcing collaboration, which has often proved to be a weak link in value engineering initiatives. It is typically an in-house or service-provider activity, in which part process and manufacture can often be done within a single facility.
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