Generative design leads to a competition win and a job
An engineering student’s entry for an international robotics competition leads to the discovery of generative design, a championship title, and ultimately, a job.
When South China University of Technology (SCUT) student Zhen-Po Yang entered the RoboMaster Competition, he was seeking an opportunity to apply his mechanical engineering studies to real-world practice. He never imagined that his decision would expand his engineering skills in exciting directions—and ultimately land him a job.
RoboMaster is an annual international robotics competition that inspires engineering students to design and build next-generation robots to compete against one another. It provides a global stage for university students to pursue their passions in science and technology, and to demonstrate the boundlessness of their imaginations.
“We learned how to design and make a robot by ourselves and were given the great opportunity to work as a team to solve problems,” Zhen-Po says. “It was very interesting to go through the whole process from design to make. I was so excited to see my ideas transform into a real robot.”
Zhen-Po led his team, the South China Tigers, to a first-place RoboMaster regional championship through the adoption of generative design tools in Autodesk® Fusion 360® software. Using the iterative design process helped the team reduce the weight of their stabilizer mount 42 percent compared to their original design.
“In the past, our robots were quite heavy, which caused slow movements and responses in the robot battle,” Zhen-Po says. “When I was first introduced to generative design, I knew I had found something special. Creating the lightest robot weight is what every engineer dreams of.”
Generative design is a tool in Fusion 360 that aids in the design exploration process through testing and iteration. Users input their design goals, along with parameters such as desired performance, materials, manufacturing methods, and cost constraints. The software explores all the possible variations of a solution and quickly generates design alternatives. Generative design can minimize mass and material use, optimize durability of components, and consolidate multiple components into solid parts using additive manufacturing.
Zhang Dong, Associate Professor at the School of Mechanical and Automotive Engineering at SCUT, inspired Zhen-Po to pioneer generative design in the robot’s design.
“With generative design, we were able to reduce our team R&D costs by 80 percent,” Zhang says. “It helped us invest in the development of our engineering talent, and it gave us great results during the RoboMaster competition.”
“In the past, our robots were quite heavy which caused slow movements and responses in the robot battle,” Zhen-Po says. “When I was first introduced to generative design, I knew I had found something special. Creating the lightest robot weight is what every engineer dreams of.”
During RoboMaster, Zhen-Po and the South China Tigers tested design components for a stabilizer mount in their robot. They began with an aluminum alloy and glass fiber plate CNC machine design that consisted of 27 parts. The initial design was heavy and made for slower movement speed and reaction times, leading Zhen-Po to turn to new technology within Fusion 360 for ways to improve performance. Using generative design, the team began to iterate weight conditions, materials, and processing methods to ensure the best performance of the part during the competition. They ultimately designed a stabilizer mount through the use of Farsoon metal additive manufacturing. Their final mount saw a 42 percent weight reduction as compared to the original CNC design, and it consisted of only a single part. This reduced material waste, enhanced strength, and lighter weight gave their robot a faster response to signals and movement.
“The weight reduction greatly increased the flexibility of the robot and helped us reduce our requirements for the motor,” notes Zhen-Po. “Faster speed means a lot to us because we can have more initiative in our robot battles. Our team had the capability to have the fastest robot movement, making us hard to beat.”
The South China Tigers not only took home the RoboMaster victory, but Zhen-Po was named MVP of the competition. A bigger prize was yet to come, however. Zhen-Po’s innovative approach to robotic design caught the eye of RoboMaster’s organizer, DJI, an electronics manufacturer in China. He was hired by DJI after graduation, and currently works in Research & Development, where he continues to champion generative design for their portfolio of products.
“I believe generative design can bring a lot of improvements to our company’s products,” Zhen-Po says. “After all, consumers like light and strong products.”