Topology Optimization: How algorithmically generated geometries can make stronger 3D printed parts

3D printed mold making process

Topology Optimization

How algorithmically generated geometries can increase part efficiency.

If you are looking for a way to create lightweight, efficient, and innovative designs for your 3D printing projects, you might want to consider topology optimization. Topology optimization is a powerful technique that uses mathematical algorithms to optimize the shape and material distribution of a design within a given space and under certain conditions. In this blog post, we will explain what topology optimization is, how it works, why it is beneficial, and how you can use it with our 3D printing services at Forge Labs.

3D printed master pattern

A motorcycle design that leveraged topology optimization to create a super strong and lightweight frame.

What is Topology Optimization?

Topology optimization (TO) is a method that optimizes the layout of material within a design space, for a given set of loads, boundary conditions, and constraints, with the goal of maximizing the performance of the system. For example, you can use TO to minimize the weight of a structure while maintaining its stiffness, or to reduce the thermal stress or resonance of a component.

Fully self supporting pyramid

Size Optimization vs Shape Optimization vs Topology Optimization

Topology optimization is different from shape optimization and sizing optimization in the sense that the design can attain any shape within the design space, instead of dealing with predefined configurations. The result of TO is often a complex and organic-looking shape that resembles natural structures, such as bones or trees.

Fully self supporting pyramid

Topology Optimization Process

How Does Topology Optimization Work?

Topology optimization usually takes place towards the end of the design process, when you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve with your part. The process involves the following steps:


  1. Define the design space: This is the volume within which the design can exist. You can also specify non-design regions or components that cannot be modified during the optimization.


  1. Define the objective function: This is the quantity that you want to minimize or maximize for best performance. For example, you can choose to minimize compliance (which is inversely proportional to stiffness), mass, or displacement.


  1. Define the constraints: These are the limitations that you have to satisfy for your design. For example, you can set a maximum or minimum volume fraction, stress, strain, or displacement.


  1. Define the loads and boundary conditions: These are the external forces and supports that act on your design. For example, you can apply pressure, gravity, thermal load, or fixed support.


  1. Run the optimization: The software will use mathematical algorithms to iteratively remove material from areas that do not contribute significantly to the performance of the design, until it reaches an optimal solution that satisfies the objective function and the constraints.


  1. Interpret and refine the result: The software will generate a mesh model that represents the optimal shape and material distribution of your design. You can then analyze and evaluate the result, and make any necessary modifications to improve its manufacturability or aesthetics.
Fully self supporting pyramid

Topology Optimization for a piece of metal hardware.

Why Use Topology Optimization?

Topology optimization has many advantages for 3D printing projects, such as:


  • Saving money: By reducing the amount of material used in your design, you can lower your production costs and save resources.


  • Solving design challenges: By optimizing your design for specific performance criteria, you can overcome issues such as resonance, thermal stress, buckling, or fatigue.


  • Saving time: By automating the design process, you can save time and effort that would otherwise be spent on manual trial-and-error methods.


  • Enhancing creativity: By exploring new shapes and forms that are not limited by conventional design rules, you can create innovative and unique designs that stand out from the crowd.
SLA mold

Skateboard trucks designed with Topology Optimization

How to Use Topology Optimization with Forge Labs

At Forge Labs, we offer high-quality 3D printing services for a variety of applications and industries. Whether you need prototypes, functional parts, or custom products, we can help you turn your ideas into reality.


If you want to use topology optimization for your 3D printing projects, here are some tips to get started:


  • Define Design Objectives: Clearly define the design objectives and constraints for your part. Identify the loading conditions, required stiffness, and any geometric or manufacturing constraints that need to be considered during the optimization process.

  • Generate the Initial Design: Start by creating a solid model of your part using CAD software. This initial design will serve as the starting point for the topology optimization process. Ensure that the model is properly defined and suitable for simulation.

  • Choose Topology Optimization Software: Select appropriate topology optimization software based on your requirements. Some popular tools include Altair OptiStruct, ANSYS Topology Optimization, and Autodesk Generative Design. These tools will help you define the simulation setup and run the optimization process.

  • Set Up the Simulation: Define the material properties, loading conditions, and boundary conditions for the topology optimization analysis. The software will use this information to determine where material can be removed while maintaining structural integrity.

  • Run the Optimization: Initiate the topology optimization process and let the software iterate through various simulations. The optimization algorithm will continuously remove unnecessary material until the desired design objectives are met.

  • Interpret the Results: After the optimization process is complete, analyze the results to understand the final optimized design. Pay attention to areas of high stress concentrations and regions where material has been removed.

  • Create the Final 3D Model: Using the results from the topology optimization, modify the initial CAD model to match the optimized design. This can involve smoothing or redesigning specific features based on the simulation outcomes.

  • Check for Manufacturing Feasibility: Ensure that the final topology-optimized design is manufacturable using the selected 3D printing process and material. Address any overhangs, support requirements, or other manufacturing-related concerns.

  • Export the Topology-Optimized Design: Once you have finalized the topology-optimized design in your chosen topology optimization software, simply export it as an STL or STEP file. The design will then be ready for 3D printing.

  • Upload and Order: Visit Forge Labs' website and upload your topology-optimized STL or STEP file directly to their 3D printing services. Select any additional preferences, such as material choice, color, or finishing options.


  • Test and Iterate: Once the part is 3D printed, test its performance to validate the design. Depending on the results, you may need to iterate through the topology optimization process again to further refine the design.

SLA mold

Comparison of two 3D printed metal parts, before and after topology optimization


Topology optimization is a game-changer for 3D printing services, as it allows you to create lightweight, efficient, and innovative designs that are tailored to your specific needs and goals. By using topology optimization with our 3D printing services at Forge Labs, you can save money, time, and resources, while solving design challenges and enhancing creativity.


If you are interested in using topology optimization for your 3D printing projects, contact us today and let us help you bring your ideas to life.