Autodesk Research and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Team Up on Design of Next-Generation Materials

Categories: Sustainability in PD&M

Protective helmets to serve as test case for generative design and metamaterial collaboration

Taking advantage of overlapping interests in high-performance computing and additive manufacturing, Autodesk Research and the Advanced Manufacturing Lab at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) are teaming up to explore how generative design software can accelerate innovation in 3D printing of advanced materials.

As part of an 18-month, in-kind Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), Autodesk will give LLNL access to state-of-the-art software for goal-oriented design as it studies how micro-architected metamaterials (materials with properties that don’t exist in nature) can be combined with additive fabrication techniques to produce objects that were never before possible.

The two organizations have identified protective helmets as a test case for their technology collaboration, investigating how to improve design performance at the macro-scale of human beings. This research could eventually lead to breakthroughs in other areas of anatomically fitted equipment such as body armor and prosthetics.

“As an organization that is pushing the limits on generative design and high-performance computing, Autodesk Research is an ideal collaborator as we investigate next-generation manufacturing,” said Anantha Krishnan, associate director of engineering at LLNL. “With its extensive cross-industry customer base, Autodesk can help us examine how our foundational research in architected materials and new additive manufacturing technology might transfer into a variety of domains.”

3Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski (left) and Anantha Krishnan, Associate Director of Engineering at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Generative design is central to the future of making things. It is a process by which the infinite computing power of the cloud is used to generate very large sets – thousands to tens of thousands – of designs that meet specific goals. Generative design can increase design quality, efficiency and performance across the board.


Exploring hundreds of alternate design solutions becomes possible when high-performance computing is paired with novel user interfaces. Source:

“Helmet design is an excellent example of a multi-objective design problem. There are several constraints such as desired weight, cost, durability, material thickness and response to compression,” said Mark Davis, Autodesk senior director of design research. “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.”

Helmets could become more effective as a result of 3D printing because the technique creates an opportunity for designs that integrate the helmet shell with its cushioning element, all in one piece. Complex material microstructures – possible only via additive manufacturing – dissipate energy more predictably and repeatedly than traditional helmet pads such as foams and gels. A fully 3D-printed helmet is an audacious goal, yet Autodesk and LLNL expect to make demonstrable progress toward just such a prototype using technologies developed through this CRADA.

"By combining the advanced additive manufacturing techniques at LLNL with our ability to compute shapes made of complex combinations of materials, we stand to find breakthrough designs for the helmet,” said Francesco Iorio, Autodesk distinguished research scientist. “We envision a future where any product can be composed of bespoke materials, appropriately distributed at the micro and macro scale to optimally satisfy a desired function.”


Some materials designed with new additive manufacturing techniques exhibit high stiffness and low density, occupying a previously unpopulated area of the Ashby material selection chart for Young's modulus (stiffness) versus density. The octet truss structure recently fabricated by Livermore researchers is a stretch-dominated lattice. Source:

Autodesk Research is a cross-disciplinary team of experts in computer science, computational science and design research with a mission to advance the science underpinning computer-aided design technology.

The Advanced Manufacturing Lab at LLNL is focused on developing new approaches to integrating design, fabrication and certification of advanced materials.

For more on this collaboration, see the LLNL press release here.