New designed parts

Optimize the design of existing components with 3D printing

3D-Druck Metall-Bauteil topologieoptimiert Lattice-Struktur

Even the best solutions can be redesigned - this is especially true in the field of additive manufacturing. After all, compared to conventional manufacturing, 3D printing offers numerous opportunities to "rethink" existing workpieces and thereby optimize the design.

Especially in vehicle construction or aerospace, lattice structures or bionic structures enable significant weight reduction of components - the perfect basis for minimized energy consumption and increased stability at the same time. In this article, learn how existing components can be optimized for 3D printing using topology optimization, FEM optimization, and innovative thinking right from the design stage.

In this article, you will find the following topics:

How do you find out whether it is worth optimizing the workpiece?

Before the first thought process around a possible optimization of existing components, there is one question above all: When are the adjustments worthwhile at all? Because one thing is clear: Not everything that can be done has to be done. Because as efficient as modern, digitally supported methods of component adaptation are: time and therefore money must always be spent on the work involved.


Optimization is generally worthwhile for:

  • Small components
  • Custom-made parts
  • Components with large volume (cost reduction through smaller volume)
  • Components that have to be as light as possible
  • Components with very complex requirements or component connections
  • Assemblies with many individual parts (combine components into one part)
  • Small and medium series and their prototypes (whether optimization is worthwhile must be determined by calculations)
Bionische Radtr├Ągerkonstruktion mit Feinguss hergestellt

Optimization of existing components is also recommended if adjustments minimize the overall weight of the component and - ideally - simultaneously increase its mechanical strength. A reduced weight means a material saving that may only amount to a few grams for a single component - but scaled up to many components of the same series definitely has a very significant, also economic effect (price).

Image: for a wheel carrier design that needs to be as light as possible, the switch to 3D printing is definitely worthwhile.

Rethinking the component: an important aspect of 3D printing

Additive manufacturing processes offer designers maximum freedom to turn ideas into designs. In particular, bionic structures - organic geometries based on nature - can lead to reduced weight, increased rigidity of the overall design or optimized load distribution on the component. 3D printing enables the production of the most complex structures, which would be impossible to manufacture using conventional manufacturing processes, or only at immensely high costs.

Maschineningenieure beim Konstruieren

In order for a component to be optimized for 3D printing, one thing is first necessary: the component must be "completely rethought" from the design side. Powerful software is used as valuable support for this initial process. Digital topology optimization or FEM optimization yields shapes that are not manufacturable until additive manufacturing methods are introduced.

Image: "Re-thinking" a component often works better in a team than alone

Rethinking the component also means that not only the existing component is examined and analyzed for possible adaptations, but also and above all the "trappings". Factors such as the area of application or functionality are directly reflected in a design adaptation. Components that previously consisted of several individual components can, for example, be combined into one component after a topology optimization has been carried out. Or, after FEM optimization, completely new geometries can be created, which just a few years ago were at best only conceivable in the realm of science fiction.

The basic principle when optimizing existing components for 3D printing should always be innovative thinking and approach: Throw old standards overboard and embrace the new possibilities of additive manufacturing.

Topology optimization and FEM optimization: What does it mean?

We have talked about topology optimization and FEM optimization several times now. But do you know what is behind these terms? We have compiled the most important information about the currently most relevant methods for optimizing existing components. The Topology optimizationFEM optimization is a numerical method in the field of construction, in which an optimal material distribution within a given volume is found through the use of mathematical formulas. For this purpose, data on the mechanical load of a component is entered into a software environment - and the software generates an initial geometry proposal from this data.

Jellypipe Bauteil Topologie-Optimierung
Jellypipe Bauteil 3D-Konstruktion Topologie-Optimiert
Jellypipe Bauteil Topologie-Optimierung

This is also tested within the software environment for different loads and acting forces. The resulting stresses are recorded and analyzed. In the final step, an optimal design is developed by adjusting the geometry. Topology optimization allows a component to be defined by factors such as mechanical loads, geometric properties and, of course, the material used - and thus to reduce weights or achieve a load increase while maintaining the same weight.

Image: several steps to the optimized component

Finite Elemente Analyse FEM mit Software

The finite element method (FEM) is another, mathematical approach in the field of optimization of existing components. Through complex mathematical calculations, FEM optimization allows the dimensions of a component to be perfectly adapted to the force, pressure and accelerations to which the component will be subjected in later use. FEM optimization shows where material can be saved without compromising product safety.

Image: FEM calculation visualized

Both methods serve as a basis for design decisions in order to be able to produce complex geometries without increased additional effort - and at the same time to produce the component as economically as possible. Especially in the field of lightweight construction, topology and FEM methods result in new design approaches such as lattice structures.

"Lattice" is the English term for "framework" - and refers to the structural, variable internal structure of components, which is defined by load paths similar to those of tree crowns or bone structures. This results in organic structures that save material while significantly increasing the strength of components.

Adapting the design to additive manufacturing technology

Up to this point, we have only considered design optimization based on theoretical calculations within software environments and driven by the creative thought processes of designers. However, at the end of the process, an optimized, theoretical component should also become a 3D-printed workpiece. Therefore, the design must always be adapted to the printing technology used.

selective laser melting slm technology
Stereolithography SLA 3D print process
selective laser sintering technology sls
Fused Deposition Modeling FDM 3D-Druck

The most important factor is the selection of the required material for 3D printing, because this determines the technology to be used. The technology in turn defines possible wall thicknesses, any support structures and also the printing speed and the like. In this area of optimization, it is recommended to work very closely with the contracted manufacturing company to incorporate the specific characteristics of each 3D printing technology into the design process.

Images: SLM, SLA, SLS, FDM technologies.

Conclusion: Take advantage of the potential of 3D printing!

Optimization of existing components is not always necessary - but in many cases it makes a great deal of sense. By adapting the geometry of a component to 3D printing, weights can be saved, mechanical properties improved and costs reduced. Mathematical, software-supported optimization methods help designers to think of components in a completely new way - and to implement designs that only a few years ago belonged to the realm of fantasy. When optimizing existing components for additive manufacturing, you should:

  • First define whether optimization is at all target-oriented and thus necessary.
  • Discard traditional approaches to design and completely rethink the component
  • Use powerful, mathematical solutions such as topology or FEM optimizations
  • Determine the material for the component at an early stage and use this to select the right printing technology

We would be happy to support you in optimizing and manufacturing your products. Call one of our Solution Partners and arrange a personal, non-binding consultation appointment right away! We look forward to your project.


Your Jellypipe Team


Dominik Estermann
Chief Executive Officer

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