Now, a team of researchers says it has created a new method of paring down large-scale objects.
In the past, the resolution of optimized 3D models was limited to 5 million voxels, but the new program-reported today in -can optimize objects up to 1 billion voxels in size.
The engineers put the system through its paces by feeding it the wing dimensions from a Boeing 777 airliner.
A supercomputer crunched the numbers for 5 days and produced a new design: a wing with a radical internal structure that is kept solid through curved wing spars and diagonal ribs, instead of the gridlike internal ribbing present in standard airplane wings.
The new, more hollow wing weighs 5% less than the wings currently in use on the 777, which could save 200 metric tons of fuel per year. Because of its incredibly complicated design, the wing is currently unfeasible for manufacturing.
In the future, new methods of 3D printing could allow engineers to build similar extreme wing designs.