Improving Product Design Using Biomimicry

Posted on 5 August 2019 by Jessica James


Biomimicry helps engineers to design products inspired by nature. 3D imaging, such as from MRI or CT, makes it possible to capture the unique structure of natural objects, and input these into computational workflows for visualizing, analyzing, and simulating these properties. Furthermore, 3D printing can include special materials or structures to mimic natural organisms, giving scientists and product designers a way to learn from nature.

Synopsys Simpleware users have applied the principles of biomimicry to adapt natural design solutions into efficient products used by humans and within industrial processes. We’ll be looking at key examples of this 3D image software to model approach, from how bivalve shells adapt to their environments, to the support structures of avian nests, as well as how porpoise whale fins help design ‘soft’ robotics.

Understanding Weight Distribution from Avian Nests

FE analysis of avian nest microstructure

FE simulation of avian nest showing maximum principal stress at linear static loading

Researchers at Augmanity Nano and Bar-Ilan University have studied bird nest construction for its design insights, in particular those made by edible-nest swiftlets from saliva. The nests were scanned using micro-CT (SkyScan) and imported to Simpleware ScanIP for visualization and segmentation of regions of interest. Measurements and statistics tools in Simpleware ScanIP were also used to characterize the nest, including pore analysis.

High-quality FE meshes were generated in the Simpleware FE module and exported to SIMULIA Abaqus to simulate stress and strain, with a linear elastic model used to account for small deformations. The simulations assumed a worst-case scenario for how the nests distribute birds and eggs, finding that the central ‘egg-region’ experiences lower values of stress, therefore protect the anchor region for the nest. These results show remarkable consistency in nest design in terms of macroscopic weight, shape, microscopic pore area and distribution, offering insights into the construction of a complex single-material structure for other applications.

Learning from the Elastic Properties of Bivalve Shells

Work at the University of Cambridge uses a similar methodology to look at how natural biocomposites, in this case bivalve mollusk shells, show excellent structural support, reinforcement, and absorption of impact energy. These properties were first studied using scanning electron microscopy (JEOL Ltd.) and experimental testing. Image-based modeling from X-ray CT scans (SkyScan) was then carried out in Simpleware ScanIP through segmentation and meshing steps, as well as by using the Simpleware SOLID module to calculate the effective stiffness tensor of the shell structure.

CT image processing and calculation of stress distribution using Simpleware software

CT image processing in Simpleware ScanIP and calculation of stress distribution using Simpleware SOLID


From this workflow, the researchers were able to model compressional and tensional stresses within the bivalve shells, and how they are managed by the distribution of material phases. Results can be used to better understand how mollusk shells use elastic properties to function in water environments, with potential inspiration for designing more structurally efficient products.

Creating More Efficient Soft Robotics by Studying Harbor Porpoise Fins

Breakthroughs are also being achieved at the Active Materials and Smart Living (AMSL) Laboratory  of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) by studying how the pectoral fin of the Harbor Porpoise whale can be used to improve ‘soft’ robotics, particularly in over and under-water applications.

Simpleware ScanIP was used to process DICOM images of the whale fin and generating a watertight STL file consisting of fin tissue, bone and cartilage. The three masks were exported to Autodesk.

Model generation of porpoise fin in Simpleware ScanIP from DICOM data

Model generation of porpoise fin in Simpleware ScanIP from imported DICOM file to completed model consisting of fin tissue, bone and cartilage


Autodesk (ReMake and Fusion 360) was used to model the necessary components to build the bio‐inspired whale fin. Molds, support structures, and bones were 3D printed from ABS plastic for its stiffness, and the cartilage was printed from NinjaFlex for its flexibility. The assembled fin was encased in an elastomeric body made of EcoFlex.


Fabrication of artificial harbor porpoise whale fin

A) Fabrication of the pectoral fin: adhering bone and cartilage to support structure; B) Fabricated artificial harbor porpoise whale fin with dimensions


The 3D printed model was designed and characterized using coiled polymer actuators (CPAs) to record force and displacement at different temperatures and configurations.

An array of thermally driven coiled polymer actuators (CPA) fabricated from nylon and heated with Nichrome were added to the fabricated pectoral fin and used as artificial muscles. The goal was to learn from how the Harbor Porpoise fin controls various types of movement and situations, and how these can be applied to designing transition periods for underwater and above water vehicles. The resulting drag reduction is then significant for cutting down on fuel consumption on marine ships, saving money and reducing pollutants.


All of these examples demonstrate the value of biomimicry for characterizing unique natural phenomena and translating it into data and models for informing new product designs and improvements. By adapting what has worked in nature to optimize structures and materials, these researchers open the potential for better, more efficient products tailored to their particular environments.

Read more about the different case studies:

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