Beautiful and Functional: A Review of Biomimetic Design in Additive Manufacturing

Anton du Plessis, Chris Broeckhoven, Ina Yadroitsava, Igor Yadroitsev, Clive H. Hands, Ravi Kunju, Dhruv Bhate

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

247 Scopus citations


This review article summarizes the current state-of-the-art for biomimicry in additive manufacturing. Biomimicry is the practice of learning from and emulating nature - which can be increasingly realized in engineering applications due to progress in additive manufacturing (AM). AM has grown tremendously in recent years, with improvements in technology and resulting material properties sometimes exceeding those of equivalent parts produced by traditional production processes. This has led to the industrial use of AM parts even in highly critical applications, most notably in aerospace, automotive and medical applications. The ability to create parts with complex geometries is one of the most important advantages of this technology, allowing the production of complex functional objects from various materials including plastics and metals that cannot be easily produced by any other means. Utilizing the full complexity allowed by AM is the key to unlocking the huge potential of this technology for real world applications – and biomimicry might be pivotal in this regard. Biomimicry may take different forms in AM, including customization of parts for individuals (e.g. medical prosthesis, implants or custom sports equipment), or optimization for specific properties such as stiffness and light-weighting (e.g. lightweight parts in aerospace or automotive applications). The optimization process often uses an iterative simulation-driven process analogous to biological evolution – with an improvement in every iteration. Other forms of biomimicry in AM include the incorporation of real biological inputs into designs (i.e. emulating nature for its unique properties); the use of cellular or lattice structures – for various applications and customized to the application; incorporating multi-functionality into designs; the consolidation of numerous parts into one and the reduction of waste, amongst others. Numerous biomimetic design approaches may be used – broadly categorized into customized/freeform, simulation-driven and lattice designs. All these approaches may be used in combination with one another, and in all cases with or without direct input from nature. The aim of this review is to unravel the different forms of biomimetic engineering that are now possible – focusing mainly on functional mechanical engineering for end-use parts, i.e. not for prototyping. The current limits of each design approach are discussed and the most exciting future opportunities for biomimetic AM applications are highlighted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)408-427
Number of pages20
JournalAdditive Manufacturing
StatePublished - May 2019


  • additive manufacturing
  • bio-inspiration
  • biomimetics
  • biomimicry
  • cellular
  • freeform design
  • generative design
  • lattice
  • powder bed fusion
  • simulation-driven design
  • topology optimization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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