A geometry projection method for continuum-based topology optimization with discrete elements

J. A. Norato, B. K. Bell, D. A. Tortorelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article describes a method for the continuum-based topology optimization of structures made of discrete elements. In particular, we examine the optimization of linearly elastic planar structures made of bars of fixed width and semicircular ends. The design space for the optimization consists of the endpoint locations of the bar's medial axes and their out-of-plane thicknesses. To circumvent re-meshing upon design changes, we project the design onto a fixed analysis grid using a differentiable geometry projection that results in a density field indicating the fraction of solid material anywhere in the design space, as in density-based topology optimization methods. The out-of-plane thickness is penalized so that the optimizer is capable of removing bars during the optimization. The differentiability of the projection allows for the computation via the chain rule of design sensitivities of responses of interest, and therefore it allows for the use of robust and efficient gradient-based optimization methods. Notably, this approach makes it easier to fabricate optimal designs by using off-the-shelf stock material. Furthermore, the method considers the case where bars overlap at their joints (i.e. their thicknesses are added at the joint) and when they do not. Finally, our proposed method naturally accommodates the imposition of several fixed length scales. We demonstrate the proposed approach on classical problems of compliance-based topology optimization and identify its benefits as well as research directions to be addressed in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)306-327
Number of pages22
JournalComputer Methods in Applied Mechanics and Engineering
StatePublished - Aug 5 2015


  • Geometry projection
  • Manufacturability
  • Multiscale topology optimization
  • Topology optimization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computational Mechanics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Computer Science Applications


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