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Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Autodesk partner on next-generation 3D printed materials; generative design

Researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and Autodesk are partnering to explore how design software can accelerate innovation for three-dimensional printing of advanced materials. Under an 18-month Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), LLNL will use Autodesk software for generative design as it studies how new material microstructures, arranged in complex configurations and printed with additive manufacturing techniques, will produce objects with physical properties that were never before possible.

In the project, LLNL researchers will bring to bear several key technologies, such as additive manufacturing, material modeling and architected design (arranging materials at the micro and nanoscale through computational design).

LLNL and Autodesk have selected next-generation protective helmets as a test case for their technology collaboration, studying how to improve design performance.

Mark Davis, Autodesk’s senior director of design research, called helmet design an excellent example of a design problem with multiple objectives, such as the constraints of desired weight, cost, durability, material thickness and response to compression.

Giving the software goals and constraints as input, then allowing the computer to synthesize form and optimize across multiple materials, will lead to the discovery of unexpected, high-performing designs that would not have otherwise been pursued.

—Mark Davis

Through the application of goal-oriented design software tools, LLNL and Autodesk expect to generate and analyze the performance of very large sets—thousands to tens of thousands—of different structural configurations of material microarchitectures.

In addition to benefiting from the use of computer software, helmet design also stands to receive considerable advantages from additive manufacturing.

Helmets represent a class of objects whose internal structures not only need to be lightweight, but also must absorb impact and dissipate energy predictably.

Advanced additive manufacturing techniques are expected to allow the LLNL/Autodesk researchers to produce complex material microstructures that will dissipate energy better than what is currently possible with traditionally manufactured helmet pads such as foams and pads.

LLNL’s Eric Duoss, a materials engineer and the co-principal investigator for the CRADA with Lab computational engineer Dan White, believes the agreement could lead to new design methodologies with helmets as just one example.

The difference in the design method we are proposing versus historically is that many of the previous manufacturing constraints can be eliminated. Additive manufacturing provides the opportunity for unprecedented breakthroughs in new structures and new material properties for a wide range of applications.

—Eric Duoss

It has yet to be determined what kinds of helmets will be designed under the CRADA, but sports helmets, including football, baseball, biking and skiing, are possible, according to Duoss.

Within the past two years, the Lab’s Additive Manufacturing Initiative team has used 3D printing to produce ultralight and ultrastiff mechanical materials that don’t exist in nature (published in the journal Science), produced mechanical energy absorbing materials (published in Advanced Functional Materials) and printed graphene aerogels (published in Nature Communications).

The Lab’s Additive Manufacturing Initiative team is developing new approaches to integrating design, fabrication and certification of advanced materials.

Using high-performance computing, new materials are modeled virtually and then optimized computationally. The Lab is simultaneously advancing the science of additive manufacturing and materials science, as demonstrated by its work in micro-architected metamaterials—artificial materials with properties not found in nature.


  • Xiaoyu Zheng, Howon Lee, Todd H. Weisgraber, Maxim Shusteff, Joshua DeOtte, Eric B. Duoss, Joshua D. Kuntz, Monika M. Biener, Qi Ge, Julie A. Jackson, Sergei O. Kucheyev, Nicholas X. Fang, and Christopher M. Spadaccini (2014) “Ultralight, ultrastiff mechanical metamaterials” Science 344 (6190), 1373-1377 doi: 10.1126/science.1252291

  • Duoss, E. B., Weisgraber, T. H., Hearon, K., Zhu, C., Small, W., Metz, T. R., Vericella, J. J., Barth, H. D., Kuntz, J. D., Maxwell, R. S., Spadaccini, C. M. and Wilson, T. S. (2014) “Three-Dimensional Printing of Elastomeric, Cellular Architectures with Negative Stiffness,” Adv. Funct. Mater., 24: 4905–4913 doi: 10.1002/adfm.201400451

  • Cheng Zhu, T. Yong-Jin Han, Eric B. Duoss, Alexandra M. Golobic, Joshua D. Kuntz, Christopher M. Spadaccini & Marcus A. Worsley “Highly compressible 3D periodic graphene aerogel microlattices” Nature Communications 6, Article number: 6962 doi: 10.1038/ncomms7962


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