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New educational trends demand innovations in the teaching learning process in order to turn it a worthwhile experience and take the maximum advantage of the students´ potential. One of the fundamental aspect is the motivation that students have when they course the different subjects to acquire the corresponding knowledge. One idea to enhance the lack of motivation in subjects that have applications in the real live is just to show them during the teaching period.
This work focuses the attention on the subject called “Theory of Structures” given in fourth course of the degree in Industrial Technology Engineering. This topic can be considered as a continuation of the subject “Elasticity and Strength of Materials” and provides the fundamental knowledge to deal with different techniques of “Structural Analysis”. Throughout the course, students become fluent in the application of different methods that allow the determination of the stress and strain states on different structural components and structures subjected to external actions. This is an essential step in the design of a structure because these stress and strain states have to fulfill the established requirements, according to the corresponding normative. Particularly the course focuses on the study of lattices formed by an assembly of prismatic parts joined together using hinged or rigid knots.
In order to intensify the motivation of students and enrich the contents a new topic, closely related with the subject, is introduced in a two hours long workshop. This is called “Structural Topology Optimization” and consists of the application of mathematical knowledge to the design of mechanical structures in order to determine the material optimal distribution of such structures. In the traditional design process the starting point is usually a previous defined distribution of connected bars that makes up the structure and through the analytical methods the dimension (cross section) of each element is obtained. This previous defined domain is obtained from the experience or “trial-error” methods. Introducing Topology Optimization in the design process the starting point can be the most simple and general design domain compatible with the supports and the loads. During the sequence the optimal material distribution in the structure will be obtained analytically.
Then “Structural Topology Optimization” is one more step in the design of structures and is introduced as a very useful tool and gives rise to a large research field with different interesting possibilities.
The introduction of this topic will be done centering the attention in some examples to design a bridge, showing the different resulting material distributions from the topological calculations for different initial requirements. And this will be related with the construction of real prototypes for these examples, in order to prove the validity of the calculations.
The students are divided in different groups to solve analytically and make the prototype of different case problems and they improve problem-solving competences and teamwork.
Finally, productive and enriching discussion is encouraged through the comparison between analytical results from topology optimization and traditional design process, improving the reasoning and the critical spirit of the students.