Organic Structural Design at Polaris

Editor’s Note:  The full article, entitled “When Engineering Intuition Is Not Enough”, was published in the Fall 2013 / Winter 2014 issue of Altair’s Concept to Reality magazine.  The archive may be viewed here.

An optimal structure is many manufacturers’ goal when creating a better product, and structural engineers can often quickly address the problem with a viable solution before a computer is needed. But what happens when the package space becomes too complex? And engineering intuition is not enough to develop a solution within a short period of time?

Rick Kerner, a staff engineer from Snowmobile Chassis Structures Group in Polaris, encountered such a challenge. He searched for a way to help meet his optimization goals while reducing the time and effort required for a complete snowmobile structure design – and what he discovered has transformed the design process at Polaris.

Polaris, based in Roseau, Minnesota, is a renowned manufacturer of snowmobiles. Its Snowmobile Chassis Structures Group, also known as the “Snow Group”, is responsible for the design and testing in support of three different platform teams. As a result, Kerner and the engineers are constantly working to create optimal structures that reduce weight without sacrificing performance. Typically, the team goes through 10 to 12 iterations before an acceptable result is reached.


Hoping to find a way to reduce the time spent on iterations while still maintaining an optimized structure, Kerner began looking into solidThinking Inspire®, which is an intuitive modeler utilized by engineers to generate and explore structurally efficient concepts in the earliest phases of the design process.

Kerner adopted solidThinking Inspire in a new chassis development process that incorporated some tough weight-reduction goals without sacrificing structural integrity. In addition, he coupled the design-generation capabilities of Inspire with Altair’s OptiStruct®, a solver contained in the HyperWorks® computer-aided engineering suite. OptiStruct is another optimization driven structural analysis tool that was used to conduct topology analysis on Snow Group’s previous chassis design to determine whether a more efficient solution were available. Kerner explained, “solidThinking Inspire gave us the basic shape and engineering, and then we moved to OptiStruct to refine the shape for manufacturability and stress requirements.”

New optimized concepts are explored in OptiStruct® and solidThinking Inspire®

New optimized concepts are explored in OptiStruct® and solidThinking Inspire®

With the help of solidThinking Inspire and OptiStruct, Kerner was able to cut the number of design iterations in half, from 12 to 6, while still meeting engineering goals. This also saved costs by reducing the number of required prototypes. Kerner and team were able to remove 20% of the weight of the previous generation in the new model. In addition, where the team could use aluminum instead of steel, the weight reduction doubled, to 40%!

It gets better for Kerner – the HyperWorks Units-based licensing structure also eases the design process. “It’s an easy one-for-one swap with other HyperWorks tools,” Kerner added, “and since we use the same HyperWorks Units for solidThinking Inspire as for the rest of the suite, investigating more designs costs only our time.” This reduction of design iterations has given Polaris engineers more time to design even more amazing snowmobiles.


About Chad Zamler

Chad is the Vice President of Campaign Marketing at Altair. Prior to joining the company, he spent time with a number of companies in both online marketing and web project management. He has been with Altair since 2011, and holds BA and MBA degrees in Marketing from Michigan State University.