A Beginner’s Guide to Generative Design

Written By: Cat McClintock
  • 9/14/2020
  • Read Time : 4 min.
Metal parts created in generative design.

Generative design is promising to revolutionize products and the way they’re made. Drawing on cloud computing and artificial intelligence, the technology creates designs unlike anything engineers might come up with on their own. How exactly? Here are the basics:


What Is Generative Design?

Generative design is a technology in which 3D models are created and optimized by computer software. A user sets up requirements for the model, such as manufacturing processes, loads, and constraints, and then the software offers designs that meet those requirements.

Generative design animation.

That doesn't mean the designer is off the hook when it comes to engineering a product. The human in this scenario still needs to think about weight limits, physical constraints, availability of materials, and so on. In fact, the better the engineer defines these different criteria, the better the system can discover possible solutions.

Fortunately, especially for novices, the software can help them explore constraints too. For example, you could setup a design for 3D printing. And then try again with 3-axis milling. From there, decide which results best suit your budget, time schedule, etc. and set that as optimal solution moving forward.

What Problems Does Generative Design Solve?

Generative design yields hundreds of innovative design options in a short time—especially if the software is tapping the cloud for computing resources.

It's then up to the user to evaluate tradeoffs. For example, even though two models meet specifications, option 1 might be lighter weight, while option 2 is slightly stronger. Both work, but it's nice to have choices.

The overall benefit is that generative design brings innovative products to market in record time. Though not as immediately apparent, generative design also makes a significant difference to companies that want:

  • Product differentiation. Let's be honest, most designs are based on models that worked before. We make incremental changes and hope it's attractive to customers. Generative design allows you to break out of that rut by creating high-performing new parts and products that exceed requirements. Plus, they’re not easily duplicated by the competition.
  • Expert results (even from novice engineers). Concerned about the skills gap? An entry-level mechanical engineer can now create a part using generative design without extensive knowledge. (And when the system returns hundreds of suitable solutions? Artificial intelligence, included with generative design technology, can quickly help filter myriad design options.)
  • Optimized product costs. Generative design can save money by rooting out over-designed parts. These are designs that, while reliable, may use more materials or complex manufacturing methods than necessary.
  • Optimized reliability. Carry out stress analyses on the generative design results to validate the quality and durability of the designs. This ensures your design works in the real world. (It also saves costs in manufacturing and service support.)


Manufacturing methods compared with generative design.

Image: A part generated for 3-axis milling, casting, and additive manufacturing.


Products and Companies Already Using Generative Design

Engineers are already starting to leverage generative design software to explore new design options. Here's what they're finding out:

The GE bracket redesign shown in the animation above was 75% lighter than the original design and optimized to stay within the material yield stress using generative design.

At Jacobs engineering, Jesse Craft, Sr. Design Engineer & Innovation Project Manager finds, "As an engineer, I like right angles, flat surfaces, and round dimensions, and generative design says that may not be the best solution. And so, if I want to be the best possible engineer at my job, I look to generative design to find those kinds of solutions.”

See Generative Design in Action

What does it look like when a generative design gets involved? See up close how a study might be set up and a part optimized in the video below.


How Is Topology Optimization Different Than Generative Design?

It's helpful to understand the difference between generative design and topology optimization, because the two terms are often used interchangeably. From PTC's perspective, Topology optimization converges on a single solution based only on functional objectives, constraints, and loads. Generative design evolves multiple solutions simultaneously to converge on the best possible set of solutions based on functional and non-engineering requirements. Read more here.


What Does Generative Design Mean for Today's Engineers?

We mentioned that entry level engineers get a professional boost as they can quickly start producing successful generative models. For engineers at of any level, generative design should shift their role to curating parameters and test conditions, writes Jesse Coors-Blankenship in a recent article in Machine Design. "Liberated from the tedious trial and error of refining their designs, engineers can focus on what their design needs to accomplish rather than how the design will be realized."

Going Forward with Generative Design

We hope this answered some of your questions about generative design and the seemingly alien models it creates. In short, it’s simply a new, but powerful technology to help companies deliver their best designs in less time.

For more detailed information or to contact an expert to learn more, visit PTC’s generative design web page.

Learn more about generative design.


  • CAD
  • Retail and Consumer Products
  • Connected Devices

About the Author

Cat McClintock

Cat McClintock edits the Creo and Mathcad blogs for PTC.  She has been a writer and editor for 15+ years,  working for CAD, PDM, ERP, and CRM software companies. Prior to that, she edited science journals for an academic publisher and aligned optical assemblies for a medical device manufacturer. She holds degrees in Technical Journalism, Classics, and Electro-Optics. She loves talking to PTC customers and learning about the interesting work they're doing and the innovative ways they use the software.