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Changing Parameters to Achieve High Quality Design

What Is Optimization? Although optimization sounds like a technical buzz word, it is broadly used in our daily lives, in applications such as finding the shortest distance going from one place to the other, or shopping in a grocery store with the least amount of spending. It is a way of finding the best in some sense. In engineering, optimization has been used to design the best quality of products (objective) by changing parameters (design variables) under given conditions (constraints). For example, an engineer may want to minimize the weight of a structure by changing thicknesses of panels, while keeping the maximum stress as less than the failure strength. Numerical optimization is a tool to help engineers rapidly find the best objective by searching within available ranges of design variables, while satisfying constraints.

Figure 1: Panel before optimization shows high stress in the center and on the sides.

Figure 2: The panel after optimization is significantly thinner with deeper i-beams resulting in less stress and less material waste.

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How to Define an Optimization Problem An optimization problem consists of three components: design parameterization, objective, and constraints. The success of solving an optimization problem strongly depends on a proper definition of these three components. Design parameterization, which allows engineers to define the geometric properties of the structural system being designed, is one of the most important steps in the design process. The principal role of design parameterization is to define the geometric parameters that characterize the structural model and to collect a subset of the geometric parameters as design variables. Design parameterization forces engineering teams in design, analysis, and manufacturing to interact at an early design stage, and supports a unified design variable set to be used as common ground to carry out all analysis, design, and manufacturing processes. Only proper design parameterization will yield a good optimum design, since the optimization algorithm will search within a design space that is defined for the design problem. The design space is defined by the type, number, and range of design variables. The objective is to be minimized (or maximized) during optimization. Selection of a proper objective is an important decision in the design process. A valid objective has to be influenced by the design variables; otherwise, it is not possible to reduce the objective by changing the design. Constraints are the criteria that the system has to satisfy in order to be a valid design. Among all design ranges, those that satisfy the constraints are candidates for the optimum design. However, as long as the constraints satisfy their criteria, their magnitudes are not important. For example, an engineer may want to design a bridge whose weight is minimized and whose maximum stress is less than the failure strength. In this case, the objective, or weight, is the most important criterion to be minimized. However, as long as stress, or constraint, is less than the failure strength, the stress level is not important. How to Solve the Optimization Problem Once the optimization problem is defined, it can be solved numerically. In general, optimization algorithms have two different categories: the gradient-based and gradient-free methods. The

gradient-based method basically moves from one design to another to improve the objective and stops when there is no way to further improve the objective. It is called the gradient-based method because the gradient information is required in determining the direction of design change. At each design, this method requires evaluating the objective and constraints as well as their gradients, which is often calculated using finite differences. This method works well when the objective is a continuous function of design variables and nonlinearity is not severe. However, when the objective varies in a complex way, this method may find a local optimum design, which can be significantly different from the global optimum design.

Figure 3: Gradient-based optimization algorithms progressively reduce the objective in the design space that satisfies constraints.

Figure 4: When the objective is a complicated function of design variables, it is difficult to find the global optimum design. Most numerical optimization algorithms find a local optimum design.

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The gradient-free method only requires the value of the objective and constraints, not their gradients. This method is often called random walking in the design domain because it generates a population of design variables and chooses the one that yields the best objective. The genetic algorithm and particle swarm optimizations are two examples. This method has advantages over the gradient-based method when design variables are discrete or the objective is non-smooth. However, this method generally requires a large number of iterations and may have difficulty with a large number of constraints. Currently, NEi Editor uses the gradient-based optimization algorithm, in particular, the Sequential Quadratic Programming (SQP) method. This quasi Newton method iteratively updates the Hessian matrix and converges rapidly when the initial design is close to the optimum design. The Efficient Global Optimization (EGO) method, which is a gradient-free method, will be available in the near future. Optimization in NEi Editor NEi Editor provides a state-of-the-art nonlinear constrained optimization tool that provides an easy user-interface and is seamlessly integrated with NEi Nastran. NEi Editor supports various types of objectives that can be minimized (or maximized) during optimization and they include the following criteria: weight, maximum von Mises stress, displacement, eigenvalue, and temperature. Users can select multiple objectives that can be optimized simultaneously using the weighted sum. Constraints

can be defined by selecting the same types of criteria and providing upper- or lower-limits. Design variables can easily be defined by selecting any field in Nastran bulk data file. Users are also expected to provide the upper- and lower-bounds of the selected design variables. Then, the optimization tool will search all design variables between their bounds and find an optimum value of design variables. During the optimization, all intermediate designs as well as the best design are stored so that the users can use any of these designs.

Figure 5: Evaluations are displayed as they are solved and stored in separate folders

Figure 6: Optimization user-interface in NEi Editor

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About NEi Software

NEi Software is a world leader in CAE innovation supplying Nastran Finite Element Analysis (FEA), engineering simulation, and virtual testing software solutions. Engineers gain insight with digital prototypes, images, contour plots, graphs, and animations of linear and nonlinear structural stress, deformation, dynamics, vibration, kinematics, impact, heat transfer and fluid dynamic (CFD) simulations. The website features case studies in aerospace, automotive, maritime, petroleum, medical, and consumer products with demonstration videos, webinars, tutorials, and training schedules.

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For more information on Design Optimization

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