Collaborative Design Exploration

Intuition plays a critical role in all stages of a design exploration study, from defining the problem statement to building the simulation model to interpreting the results. But what about the search process itself? Should we make design improvements based on intuition, or should we allow a mathematical search engine to explore the design space for better designs? The answer is both. We call this shared process collaborative design exploration.

The SHERPA search strategy allows you to inject your design ideas before and during an exploration study. Before you start a study, you can seed it with multiple ideas (in the form of actual designs) that might help SHERPA to locate productive regions of the design space more quickly, thus speeding up the overall search. For example, in addition to the baseline design, you might consider seeding the study with other potentially good designs that:

  • you have investigated or produced in the past
  • your competitors have used
  • are feasible, but perhaps not optimal
  • are high performing relative to one or more criteria, but not all of them
  • have some desirable features, but don’t necessarily perform well
  • you have a hunch may work well
  • are from a previous HEEDS MDO study

One or more of these injected ideas might contribute to a more efficient search, while the cost of doing this is only the time to enter the variable values that define each of the designs. SHERPA will evaluate the injected designs when the search process is launched, so there is no need to simulate them before injection.  Continue reading

Using Design Sensitivities

Design sensitivities are a measure of how much an objective or constraint response varies due to a small change in a design variable. Based on this definition, they are sometimes referred to as sensitivity derivatives. Let’s discuss how to use them properly, as well as how not to use them.

First, note that the design sensitivities we refer to here are calculated for a particular design, not for a design space. Statistical methods of sensitivity analysis can provide useful information about a design space, but not the type of information we seek here.

Since a design represents a point in the design space, it is clear that sensitivities are defined at a point, as are mathematical derivatives. Two distinct designs within a design space will probably have different sensitivities unless the design space is linear, which is seldom the case for engineering problems. Continue reading

How to Accelerate Your Design Exploration Studies

We all feel the “need for speed” when trying to find better design solutions through simulation. What can we do to speed up our design exploration studies? Let’s discuss all the options here, including one that may not be obvious.

In a typical study, the total CPU time needed to perform a design exploration study is determined using this simple formula:


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We often need for a design or a model to perform in a specified way. For example, the parameters in a nonlinear material model should be selected to best match the experimental stress-strain response. The geometrical parameters of a rubber bushing should be designed so that its force-deflection response matches the desired nonlinear stiffness behavior.

Optimization problems like these arise frequently. We refer to them as curve-fitting problems, because the goal is to minimize the difference between the specified target curve and the actual response curve
of our design or model.

Figure 1.

Figure 1. The difference between a target curve and a design curve is minimized in a curve fitting optimization problem.

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Reducing the Accidental Coupling of Variables

One of the challenges to finding optimal solutions is the coupling of variables. If we could change one variable at a time, the search process would be so much easier. But in most problems the variables are strongly coupled, so the best value for one variable depends on the values of many other variables.2variables

Often, we have no control over this variable coupling, since it is inherent in the physics model that defines our objectives and constraints. In these cases, we need a powerful optimization search strategy like SHERPA to figure out the complexities of the design landscape and to produce an optimized solution.

But in some cases we make this task harder than it needs to be because of how we represent the problem. That is, sometimes the way we define the problem creates unnecessary coupling or increases the complexity of existing coupling among variables. This makes the optimization search harder, and may decrease the chance of finding the optimal solution within our limited optimization search budget. The good news is that we can often alleviate this situation with a different representation.  Continue reading

Optimizing the Number and Location of Design Features (without using a CAD model)

Recent advances in process automation and optimization search technology have made it easier than ever to perform automated design studies and discover innovative solutions. But we still have to define the problem we want to solve and then decide how to represent that problem in our models. These two tasks are sometimes challenging, and they rely heavily on experience and intuition. In this article, as well as some future ones, we will share some of our experience in defining and representing various types of optimization problems. Hopefully you will find some of these techniques useful in your applications.

Numbers and locationsA common design scenario is to optimize the number and location of certain design features to satisfy performance goals and requirements. For the sake of discussion, let’s consider a specific example of this type of problem. Continue reading

Series Hybrid vs. Parallel Hybrid

Hybrid refers to something that is made up of two or more diverse ingredients. The goal in combining them is to capture and merge the advantages of each ingredient, while overcoming any disadvantages. But ingredients can be combined in many ways, resulting in considerable variation in performance depending on how they are combined.

In optimization search algorithms, as with electric vehicles, there are two main categories of hybrids: series and parallel. To better understand the basic differences between the series and parallel hybrid approaches, let’s consider a simple illustration.
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Collaborative Optimization

collaborative optimizationMany engineers still resist the use of optimization algorithms to help improve their designs. Perhaps they feel that their hard-earned intuition is just too important to the solution process. In many cases, they are right.

At the same time, most optimization algorithms still refuse to accept input from engineers to help guide their mathematical search. The assumption is that the human brain cannot possibly decipher complex relationships among multiple system responses that depend upon large numbers of connected variables. Unfortunately, this is true.  Continue reading

Triathlon Strategy

cyclingI am currently training to compete in my first sprint triathlon race. Well, compete may be an exaggeration, and there won’t be much sprinting. But I do hope to cross the finish line before the sun sets.

If you are unfamiliar with the sport, a sprint triathlon is a race with three components. Participants swim about one-half mile in a lake, then ride a bike about 12 miles along a marked road course, and finally run 3.1 miles to reach the finish line.

To an athlete, this race sounds like a fun challenge. To an engineer, it is a fascinating multi-objective optimization problem.  Continue reading

Collecting the Dots

There is little debate that Steve Jobs was one of the greatest innovators of our time. His curiosity and creativity are benchmarks for both individuals and companies. One of my favorite Jobs quotes appeared in Wired, February 1996:

Connecing the Dots“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”“Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

Steve Jobs was not referring to mathematical optimization when he made these statements, but it would be difficult to find better words than these to motivate people to use a global optimization search process. Let me explain why. Continue reading