Be Water

“Be formless, shapeless, like water. Now, you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. Put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow, or creep, or drip, or crash. Be water, my friend.” – Bruce Lee

Falling waterWhen martial artist Bruce Lee offered the above advice about being adaptable, I doubt that he was referring to mathematical optimization. But these words of wisdom are certainly relevant to optimization algorithms.

Searching a design space is a lot like navigating a mountain range, and we know that no two mountain ranges are alike.

Even while traveling within a given range, you are likely to encounter several different types of terrain – smooth and rolling in some areas, rocky and rugged in other areas. Many design spaces are like this, as well.

Yet most optimization search algorithms use a fixed strategy for every problem, even though it is often impossible to predict the characteristics of a newly defined design space.  Continue reading

Using Knowledge Smarter

“The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow.” – Rupert Murdoch

RunnerWhen computer aided engineering (CAE) analysis techniques, like the finite element method, were first introduced, their primary role was to investigate why a design failed. Surely, this understanding would help designers avoid such failures in the future.

But soon, manufacturing companies realized that it was smarter to use CAE tools to predict whether a design would fail, before manufacturing. This gave designers the chance to make changes to designs and avoid most failures in the first place. This pass/fail test is still in place at many companies, in the form of scheduled iterations of computer aided design (CAD) drawings followed by CAE simulations.

Often, companies decide on a fixed number of manual CAD/CAE design iterations ahead of time. I’ve often wondered how project managers know exactly how many iterations it will take to arrive at the best design. Naturally, they haven’t figured the last-minute redesign “fire drills” and disorganized patchwork of final design changes into that preset number of design iterations.  Continue reading