Supply Chain planning

Making the most of storage facilities in large construction projects

Large construction projects have a huge logistics component often requiring equipment from all over the globe to be brought together through a complex supply chain. In an ideal world, our suppliers would produce items on time and they would be transported to our construction contractors just as they needed them.

Unfortunately, we don’t work in an ideal world – suppliers can fail to produce on time, problems can occur in transit, and external forces outside our control can interrupt the construction schedule. For this reason, we want a contingency plan – usually in the form of a storage facility where we can hold spare or excess items if our supply and demand schedules don’t match up.

These facilities are used heavily over a short period of time, meaning that any inefficiencies quickly add up to large, unnecessary costs. However, given the size of these projects, identifying and fixing these issues is far from easy or intuitive. It is through analytics that you can drive quantitative answers and support effective decisions in your logistics and facility planning.

Read more

Mitigation by Iteration

Mitigation by Iteration – Facilitating the Optimisation Journey

For companies to remain competitive, they require smart systems that solve their unique day to day business problems. However, when applying these systems many decision makers get lost in the complexity due to limited communication and collaboration within the implementation process.

We are at the cutting edge of the latest optimisation methodologies and web technologies. However, unlike many other optimisation, and analytics companies out there, one of our main goals is to make powerful optimisation accessible in the real world to bring value to our clients.

We specialise in the development of web applications and smart optimisation engines– delivered in less time than you would probably think. It’s not unusual for us to go from an initial workshop with a client, to understanding their problem, and then having a fully functional optimiser in a production environment within three months.

On top of this the same people are often involved through the entire SDLC (software development life cycle) i.e. from the spec/design, theory, implementation and delivery/support. This reduces the overhead many organisations incur by having different people in business analytics and developer positions. The people implementing the solution actually understand and work with you to solve your problem.

Read more

Biarri Workbench - optimisaiton through the cloud

Optimisation through the cloud – The Biarri Workbench

Optimising your business; by operating in the most efficient and effective way; is essential in delivering a greater competitive advantage and is key to driving business success.

But, how can you drive innovation, empower your business decisions and survive in a highly competitive and volatile global marketplace?

A KPMG Report on elevating business in the cloud found that,

As cloud adoption picks up pace, cloud is poised not only to grow in scale, but will also increasingly impact more and more areas of the business. They do not only result in cost savings, but they can help organisations increase workforce flexibility, improve customer service, and enhance data analytics. In other words, the cloud should be considered a key enabler of the corporate strategy, driving strategic business transformations of all kinds.

Gartner Research supports this by naming the cloud as one of the top 10 strategic technology trends for 2015 that will have a significant impact on organisations during the next three years.

Agile Analytics driving business optimisaiton through the cloud

Anayltics delivered through the cloud empowers you to make adaptable decisions quickly, with far more rigour. Having access to your data anywhere, any time, on any device means that you no longer require large IT systems that are overly complex and not built for your specific problem. Cloud solutions allow you to scale up and down, and adapt depending on your specific target requirements. This means you can have point solutions targeting specific pain points within your business.

How does cloud based optimisation fit in my business?

Optimisaiton can be applied to most business problems. The question you should be asking yourself is; What is the best possible outcome of the decisions i’m about to make?

For your Supply ChainHow can I best support effective capital decisions to ensure end-to-end efficiency? – Learn More

For your Logistics – How should I best manage my fleet, workforce, facilities and work communications? – Learn More

For your WorkforceHow should I best plan my workforce across the next few hours, days, and months into the future? – Learn More

For your AnalyticsHow can I be sure that I am making the right decisions and considering all variables? – Learn More

How do we do it?

With our team of mathematicians, software developers and UI designers we use The Biarri Workbench which is an intuitive cloud based platform designed to support the rapid development on powerful web based software solutions.

With the powerful development platform of The Biarri Workbench, we are able to easily customise, alter, and build a solution for your specific business requirements.

The Workbench is Accessible. Empowering you to reduce your companies IT footprint and access world class optimisation anywhere, anytime, on any device.

The Workbench is Customisable. Built from the ground up to allow for rapid, bespoke deployment of software, built for your specific optimisation requirements.

The Workbench is Easy To Use. Through simple linear workflows, and customised visualisation widgets anyone in your business can easily master your software, reducing the need for long training and workforce upskilling.

The Workbench is Scalable. Regardless of business size or project complexity, through cloud based delivery, and bespoke software solutions built around your requirements, there is no more one size fits all approach.

The Workbench is Powerful. At the core of the Workbench are complex mathematical engines powered by industry grade commercial solvers. This means you can be certain in the justification around your decision making.

The Workbench is Efficient. Cloud based software delivery gives you the power to determine who sees what the data when– providing you with more control and rigour over your optimisation processes.

The Workbench is Secure. Security measures exceed both industry and customer requirements with the ability to easily accommodate your specific needs.

 Ask us how we can deliver optimisation via the cloud for your business!

Biarri FIFO Management

Grounding the complexity to Fly in Fly Out management

Being able to close the labour and skill gap is a critical factor in sustaining growth and maximising profitability for remote operations. It is imperative that companies have the tools and skills available to unravel the complexity to FIFO management.

FIFO workforces are commonly used by large infrastructure and resource projects in remote regions including rural and offshore. These regions often don’t have adequate infrastructure or an available local workforce with the right skillset which leads to companies requiring the use of workers from interstate and sometimes overseas.

The FIFO problem is complex for many companies. It involves determining efficient ways to move people via aircraft, taking into consideration: multiple projects at various phases over multiple locations, with a dynamic workforce utilising different skillsets on a variety of roster patterns, as well as using a fleet consisting of different types and numbers of aircraft.

Often the goal with FIFO management is to determine the number, and type, of aircraft needed in order to minimise cost whilst working with the opposing objectives of ensuring: the staff arrive before the start of their shift (but not too early), depart after the end of their shift (but not too late) and keeping travel durations to acceptable lengths (to ensure low fatigue).

Balancing FIFO Complexity

Analytics to break through the complexity

With this level of complexity, a traditional excel approach lacks the rigour and power to find the most efficient and effective results. As a result we’ve developed a number of different FIFO optimisers at Biarri to help ensure the best outcome for clients.

The reality is that there are often many more factors that need to be considered which complicates the problem further. Each FIFO optimisation problem often turns out to be quite different once the detail of the problem is better understood.

High Level FIFO Requirements

Some companies just want us to help them “define their fleet, or travel requirements” so they can then go out to tender (it also helps to keep the vendors honest), others actually want an operational tool. Others may be looking to see if there is a business case for upgrading an airport (e.g. if the airport is upgraded, then larger aircraft can be used which can reduce the need for bus in bus out (BIBO) which will alter their risk profile due to road km and can dramatically alter travel durations).

Specific FIFO requirements

Our clients often want different levels of detail in the solution. Some are happy with a solution that ensures adequate movements at the week level (e.g. 15 flights of aircraft type A between locations B and C per week), others want very detailed minute by minute schedules which take into account: turnaround time, time between takeoff and landing, number of aircraft gates with solutions showing exactly who is travelling on which flight and aircraft and when.

Across Multiple Projects

Our clients have also had multiple projects which are often on the go at the same time and sometimes different priorities are given to different projects. These priorities can be used to ensure that if all the people movement demands can’t be met, then the lower priority movements are less likely to be satisfied.

Optimising the time horizon

The optimisation time horizon can also vary significantly with some clients optimising over a 24 hour period (or even less if they want to re-optimise in the middle of the day due to unpredictable events such as delays due to weather) through to clients wanting higher level schedules over several years to help them make strategic decisions and determine how their fleet needs to change over time.

Understanding the constraints

Constraints such as: the maximum distance an aircraft can travel before needing to refuel, maintenance schedules and the refuelling locations themselves often also need to be considered. We’ve dealt with both fixed and rotary wing (helicopters) aircraft. Helicopters have the additional complication of sometimes having to take more fuel (and thus weight) to travel further, which results in the reduction of passengers because of the helicopter’s limited total payload capacity.

Finding the right FIFO parameters

We have outlined some of the parameters that our FIFO optimisers have considered. It is by no means comprehensive and we can always include new parameters if a different problem requires them but it gives a good understanding into the different variables that can, and should be considered.

Some of the typical inputs include:

Airport information

  • Location
  • Hours of operation
  • Refuelling capability
  • Refuelling duration
  • Availability (i.e. you can specify a start and end date for which the airport is available)

Aircraft information

  • Serial number
  • Category (e.g. fixed wing or rotary wing)
  • Type (e.g. DASH 8-200)
  • Average speed
  • Passenger seats
  • Maximum payload
  • Fuel density
  • Fuel tank capacity
  • Re-fuelling time
  • Fuel burn rate
  • Base location
  • Availability (i.e. you can specify a start and end date for which the aircraft is available)
  • Costs

Flight Legs

  • From location
  • To Location
  • Distance
  • Aircraft types able to fly this leg

Project priorities

People Movement Demands

  • Origin
  • Destination
  • Project
  • Number of passengers
  • From Date
  • To Date
  • Arrive Before (i.e. must arrive on their first working day of the roster by this time)
  • Depart After (i.e. must depart after this time on the last working day of the roster)
  • Roster Pattern (e.g. 14:14 = 14 days on, 14 days off)
  • Day of week (i.e. which day of the week can this person travel)
  • Group (demands can be grouped together to allow the user to specify which demands can be grouped on the same aircraft)

Some of the typical outputs include:

KPIs - There are around 40 KPIs, some of them are listed below

  • Total flights
  • Total distance flown
  • Total fuel burned
  • Total number of aircraft required
  • Utilisation Percentage
  • Total unused pax capacity
  • Total passenger demand
  • Total passenger demand satisfied

Resource Summary (i.e. which aircraft are required and when)

  • Serial number
  • Date
  • Total pax
  • Total hours flown
  • Total distance flown
  • Total fuel burned
  • Total flights
  • Total legs
  • Cost

Flight leg details (i.e. which flight legs are required and when)

  • Flight ID
  • Resource ID
  • Pax capacity
  • Available pax capacity (this is < pax capacity if the fuel weight is a limiting factor)
  • Total used pax
  • Utilisation Percentage
  • Departure location
  • Departure date and time
  • Arrival location
  • Arrival date and time
  • Day of week
  • Total distance
  • Total hours flown
  • Total fuel burned
  • Fuel weight at start of leg
  • Refuel at destination (true or false)
  • Turn around time
  • Cost

Flight leg pax details (i.e. which people movement demands travel on which flight legs)

  • Flight ID
  • Origin
  • Departure date and time
  • Destination
  • Arrival date and time
  • Project
  • Pax

Project summary (i.e. which demands from which projects were satisfied)

  • Project name
  • Total demand
  • Total satisfied demand
  • Total unsatisfied demand (e.g. this will be non zero if there is not enough capacity to transport demand)
  • Total impossible to satisfy demand (e.g. this will be non zero if a flight path has not been specified in the inputs that results in some demand being impossible to satisfy regardless of aircraft resources available)

Flight summary

  • Flight ID
  • Number of instances (i.e. how many times is this flight route flown at the same time – but on different dates)
  • Resource
  • Date of first flight
  • Date of last flight
  • Day of week
  • Departure time
  • Arrival time
  • Total people
  • Total distance
  • Total hours flown
  • Total fuel burned

Unravel the complexity to FIFO Management

The work we have done for companies such as Arrow, Origin, QGC, BMA, IBS, and Santos has shown us that despite having FIFO problems, they all required different approaches in order to achieve the right result.

This has demonstrated to us that when approaching a FIFO problem, where so many different variables have to be considered depending on the client, a standard approach (Commercial off the shelf product) and excel models will generally struggle with the complexity.

Having a tool built around specific variables demonstrates the benefits to bespoke solutions for FIFO problems.

Find out more about Biarri in Mining >>
Find out more about Biarri in Oil & Gas >>
Find out more about Biarri and FIFO Scheduling >>

Or, Get in contact so we can discuss your requirements.

People Logistics in oil and gas

The role of people logistics in oil and gas projects

Efficient and effective logistics is vital to large Oil & Gas projects – equipment must be transported to work sites and raw products need to be processed and then delivered to customers, often using multiple modes of transport in a complex supply chain. In addition to this complexity, another important part of the overall logistics problem is people logistics – How do we move personnel to and from a worksite both safely and efficiently?

Why should I invest in personnel?

Particularly in Australia, where many work sites exist in remote areas, it is not always feasible to relocate employees and their families to a town near the work site. As a result, many workforce personnel are employed on a fly-in fly-out (FIFO) or bus-in bus-out (BIBO) basis, where the employer is responsible for moving personnel to and from the work site.

A 2013 report from Ernst & Young indicated that human capital deficit is one of the top ten risks facing the global Oil & Gas industry, affirming that

as the sector develops technologically . . . companies that can retain and mobilize people will be able to sustain their competitive advantage.

Effective and efficient personnel mobilization is crucial to any significant oil and gas project. Research published in 2012 by the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG) into the prevalence of FIFO in Australia predicts that percentage of Australian mining sector jobs filled by FIFO roles will only increase over the coming years.

Improper workforce utilisation increases susceptibility to many internal and external issues, such as: a high employee turnover, high ongoing operational costs to the business, and under- or over-allocation of staff to specific jobs.

Analytics to cut through complexity

People logistics for a large project requires the coordination of travel and accommodation for hundreds, sometimes thousands of people in various remote locations. As with traditional logistics, several crucial decisions have to be made including BIBO vs FIFO, choice of airports or bus routes and staff roster schedules. In addition to this complexity, working with personnel often requires much greater scrutiny – we don’t always require a minimal-cost solution – we need to balance cost, project risk, employee safety and employee satisfaction.

Trying to weigh up all these variables and make decisions in an intelligent way for all of the personnel involved in a project very quickly becomes complex. A 2014 interview by Mining Australia notes that “for many companies [workforce management] is man­ual, or only semi-automated, which increases the risk of error or processing in­efficiencies, increasing costs”. Managing a large workforce is difficult, and only with the right technology can companies provide efficient and effective workforce management.

Through analytics companies can cut through the complexity involved in workforce management. By considering specific variables and how they affect outcomes companies can make better decisions.

Analytics empowers organisations through quantitative justification so that decision makers can be certain that employees will be spending less time in transit, and working on the right jobs at the right times, with the right people.

Biarri and People Logistics

Biarri delivers consulting and SaaS solutions to provide the right technology to enable effective workforce management.

Biarri has a proven track record, delivering people logistics and FIFO solutions for Oil & Gas and Mining companies in Australia including Santos, BMA, and Arrow Energy.

To learn more about how Biarri can help your organisation benefit from analytics and optimisation for people logistics get in touch today!

Driving efficiency in the Oil and Gas industry

Driving efficiency in the Oil and Gas industry

The oil and gas industry has been under severe pressure since late 2014 when oil prices dropped significantly. The highly volatile international market and oversupply of oil has meant companies have had to reduce costs in one way shape or form.

Bill Kroger, co-chair of law firm Baker Botts told Rigzone in an interview that, “Energy companies may need to lower their prices in response to a drop in demand …. For this reason, we may see CAPEX [capital expenditures] begin to decline until there is some stability with oil prices,”

This has been evident in Australia where many oil and gas companies have reduced capital spending significantly. However, with a lot of oil and gas projects shifting towards the operational phase, how can we make processes and decisions more efficient and effective?

Read more

Why Does analytics matter to my business?

Why does Analytics matter to my business?

Regardless of the size of your business, or position you are in, analytics is involved in one way shape or form. Analytics is used to find value within data in order to make decisions to minimise risk and maximise return. This can take the form of statistical modelling, forecasting, visualisation and much more, all in order to help with your strategic or operational decisions.

Businesses under review

The Harvard Business review’s research evaluated 5,000 employees at 22 global companies breaking them down into three groups; analysis over gut feeling; gut feeling over analysis; and the informed sceptics who balance analytics with gut feeling. The latter group being the best in regards to making the best, informed decisions as they were willing to not only look at the analytics, but the opinions of other people. Despite being recognised as being the best to make informed, critical decisions, only 38% of employees, and 50% of senior managers fall into this group.

How to tell if your business is analytically challenged?

Are your analytical decisions coming from a select few employees?

Usually when there is a skill gap within a company an outside consultant will be brought in, or a select few employees will be pushed towards training. This is an important task for bringing in new ideas and skill sets to your business. However, a lot of companies don’t encourage the spread of this wealth of knowledge. This often results in a select few employees having all of the knowledge and skills.

Biarri looks to promote education and training for key decision makers and users within your organisation so that your new software can be taught at different levels.

Are your systems focused on features rather than the benefits?

In a lot of companies the IT department is pushed away from the decision making process. This often results in building and organising things in a way to cater for the computer savvy, or IT expert rather than the general user. What this means for your business is that other employees and decision makers are hesitant to start using new systems and programs.

Biarri designs custom software for you, with you. We bring together IT, and operations staff so that design choices can be made from people using the tools!

Do you have data but don’t know what to do with it?

Many organisations get into a stage of collecting so much information that it becomes a mess and difficult to deal with. Or, someone else has told them to collect the information but they have no idea what it means. The implications this can have on your business is that it can cause clouded judgement. The Harvard business review found that less than 40% of employees know how to find the information they need for their work.

Biarri can help develop specific dashboards and input fields for your data and hosting this in the cloud means you can access your software, anytime, anywhere on any device.

Do you know who’s in charge of the data?

Historically data was considered the responsibility of the IT department and as a result a lot of managers and executives gave away this responsibility. However, it is important that managers, and executives champion data and analytics in their decision making. The right decision at the right time will help across your whole business.

Biarri can help by giving you the power to make the right decisions at the right time. We help to make Business analytics accessible to everyone.

How do I make better business decisions?

There are a bunch of ways in which you develop your analytics skills within your business.

  • Workshops and Training, Find a select few employees to champion new skills and abilities. However, make sure that you don’t fall into the trap of not spreading the wealth of knowledge. Make sure those employees spend time training and mentoring others within your business
  • Get someone in to have a look at your data, By getting an external perspective on your data, you will have a better understanding on how you can go about making better decisions
  • Get on top of your IT and software, Make sure that you have software that everyone can use to make better decisions. If you can make data easier to use then employees will be able to make faster, profitable and risk adverse decisions.

Where does Biarri Fit In?

Biarri Is an Australian Software company that uses the power of mathematics to help business make better decisions. We use the latest Operations Research tools and techniques in order to find you the best solutions. Coupled with simple and easy to use design we can build you bespoke solutions within 90 days.

Find out how we can help you across Advanced Planning and Scheduling, Workforce Management, Supply Chain Optimisation, Business Analytics and throughout different Industries.

Or, Contact us today to see how we can help you!

Death by parameters

In my previous blog post I wrote about the great flexibility and power of Genetic Algorithms. So you may have thought; why do I need help with my optimisation problems? One can just simply grab an off-the-shelf Genetic Algorithm and use it. However, as with everything, there are always two sides to every story and this time I’ll show you why optimizing with Genetic Algorithms is much harder than it seems.

The flexibility of Genetic Algorithms arises, in part, from a flexibility to choose a dizzying number of parameters. When writing your own code you potentially have to decide on things such as the number of competing optimal solutions, the number of times to improve them, the mutation and crossover probabilities, the percentage of the population to eliminate in each generation and many more.

With so many choices, choosing the parameters correctly can determine whether the algorithm bears fruit or withers and dies. This difficulty has lead to many papers on the best way to choose parameters. Unfortunately even if one is able to choose good parameters for one problem, this is no guarantee that the same parameters will work for the next problem.

Reed warbler cuckoo

A reed warbler raising the young of a common cuckoo

So over the years researchers have searched for other powerful optimisation techniques which don’t suffer from such a parameter overload. From this research we now have a number of promising algorithms. In particular, in 2009 Xin-she Ying and Suash Deb came up with the ultimate of all parameter starved algorithms, the Cuckoo Search Algorithm. In this algorithm there is one parameter. Yes only one.

The Cuckoo Search Algorithm is inspired by the parasitic nature of some cuckoo species such as the European common cuckoo. These species lay their eggs in the nests of other host birds in an attempt to trick the host to raise their own nestlings. Sometimes this devious trick succeeds. When it doesn’t, the host bird either throws the egg over the side of the nest or simply abandons the nest altogether.

In the Cuckoo Search Algorithm the cuckoo’s ploy translates into an optimisation algorithm via four idealized rules which are repeated until the desired optimisation criteria are fulfilled. In the following algorithm each egg represents a solution and by a cuckoo laying an egg, we mean create a new random solution:

  1. Each cuckoo lays an egg in a random nest.
  2. Out of all laid eggs keep a number of the best eggs equal to the number of cuckoos.
  3. Abandon a fixed fraction of the worst eggs.
  4. Repeat

Find the parameter? The single, lonely parameter in the Cuckoo Search Algorithm is the fraction of the worst nests that are abandoned. This parameter affects how thorough the algorithm searches all possible solutions and so a lower value means the algorithm will find a local optimum faster (although maybe not a desired global optimum).

The avian-inspired algorithm has been used in numerous difficult problems to oust other optimisation methods out of their leadership position. For example, it has been used for spring and beam design problems , scheduling problems, the famous traveling salesman problem and even optimisation challenges in nanoelectronics! Like most other heuristic optimisation methods, the areas of application can be quite astounding.

So now that you’ve canceled the download of a promising Genetic Algorithm and started one of a new Cuckoo Search Algorithm, I thought I’d warn you again that there’s another side to this story too. Although the bird-based algorithm makes parameter choice simple, it may or may not be your best choice for a given optimisation problem. There are many heuristics for optimisation problems and choosing the right heuristic is probably much harder than choosing the right parameters for a given optimisation method. But you don’t have to worry about your precision nest eggs because luckily you’re on the website of a company competent enough to help you with this choice.

Biarri and SaaS

SaaS deployments are now ‘mission critical’

Gartner recently published a survey citing that SaaS deployments are now ‘mission critical.’ Some of the key reasons behind this statement is that respondents looked for cost savings, an increase in innovation and accessibility to their systems as key drivers for the move away from local software solutions.

Joanne Correia, Gartner Research Vice President said,

“The most commonly cited reasons the survey found for deploying SaaS were for development and testing production/mission-critical workloads,” and went on to say “This is an affirmation that more businesses are comfortable with cloud deployments beyond the front office running salesforce automation (SFA) and email.”

This shows that companies are becoming more aware, and switched on to the benefits that cloud based software can bring to their company.

It was also demonstrated that on top of cost savings, accessibility, and innovation, SaaS based systems allowed for easier training and lower learning curves for employees.

“Non-IT professionals, often view the cloud strictly as a tool that they can use to reduce their operating costs,” and in turn effort.

Biarri empowering you through the cloud

Biarri was established in 2009 with the mission to provide accessible business optimisation to all clients regardless of size or budgets. We develop bespoke SaaS based solutions for you, with you allowing your solutions to meet your specific requirements.

We have been able to develop a bunch of applications for our clients to suit their specific; Advanced Planning and Scheduling, Workforce Management, Business Analytics and Supply Chain needs.

Get in touch and see how you can benefit from our solutions today!

 

Biarri Optimisation - 21

One tech to rule them all

Back in high school when you were battling polynomials with derivatives, you learnt one of your first all-purpose optimisation techniques. Given a function, take its derivative, set it to zero and solve for all optima. Voila! After you had coerced the equation to give up all its maxima secrets, you could then be safe in the knowledge that you had found the optimal values.

If you enjoyed computing the optimal speed to jump your calculus hurdles, then you probably went on to university to learn more about other mathematical tools. Once there you most likely met your second all-purpose optimisation technique, Linear Programming. Given a simple linear function with linear constraints, you learnt that you could use any of a number of tools such as the Simplex Method to easily and quickly solve such problem.

Ant Colonay Optimisation in Action

Figure 1 Ant Colony Optimisation in Action

From there, if you had more of an applied orientation, you probably went on to learn about the exotic optimisation creatures. For example, Genetic Algorithms, Simulated Annealing as well as a host of other nature-inspired algorithms such as Ant Colony Optimisations, Swarm Optimisation, Artificial Bee Colony Optimisation techniques, etc. In the 1990s and 2000s, for almost any type of problem, it seemed that one could find a new nature-inspired optimisation technique to solve it better than previous more mainstream tools.

However, in spite of the swarm of new optimisation tools, most problems for which these new techniques were developed could be solved with existing tools. Although probably not as efficiently. Hence the question was which method was best? The answer to this question came in 1995 when two researchers, David Wolpert and William MacReady at the renowned Sante Fe Institute, proved a number of theorems collectively referred to as the “No free lunch” theorems. These results could be seen as implying that there is no one optimisation method that is best for all problems. In addition, when we average over all problems, we expect all methods to be equal.

This result has important and deep implications. It means that if you swear by a single generic optimisation method and try and use it to solve all your problems, then don’t expect it to perform better than your three year old son who guesses random solutions to all your different stochastic multi-objective constrained optimisation techniques.

Given this it would seem strange then that I am about to suggest the idea of solving numerous problems with a single optimisation technique. Besides the fact that a number of these problems don’t look like optimisation problems at all! The reason for doing this is to see the power of an interesting optimisation technique, as well as its flexibility and generality. In addition, one needs to bear in mind that the “No free lunch” theorem is a result about every imaginable optimisation problem, which is just a tad more than the few I will touch on here.

The ST5 antenna’s final optimised design

Figure 2 The ST5 antenna’s final optimised design

The class of optimisation technique that I want to discuss here is generally referred to as Genetic Algorithms. They have been successfully used on thousands of research and industrial problems and continue to amaze researchers with their potential to solve problems far beyond their original scope. For example, one of the most famous applications of Genetic Algorithms was by NASA in 2006 to develop a new antenna design for their ST5 antenna. It can be seen that the optimal design was anything but intuitive and most likely would not have been found by a “standard” optimisation technique based on initial human guesses.

So what type of problems would be considered inappropriate for Genetic Algorithms? First of all, you couldn’t do much worse than write some code to give to your son or daughter so that in their next algebra exam they can solve x + 5 = 6 with your tailored made Genetic Algorithm. They could just let your code chug away and sit there patiently while it aces the exam for them. Although not probably the most effective use of Genetic Algorithms, it is entirely possible.

So let’s take that thought one step further. What about solving the humble quadratic equation with a genetic algorithm? It has been done (and done againand again). But the quadratic equation belongs to pure mathematics right? In addition, it’s an equation you can solve directly isn’t it? Yes and yes but interestingly enough Genetic Algorithms have started to make their way into some of the purest area of mathematics to help solve problems that are stumping pure mathematicians, This is truly one area where you would not expect the tools of applied mathematicians to come to the rescue of pure mathematicians.

We have only scratched the surface of unexpected applications of Genetic Algorithms. In fact, they have made an appearance in almost every endeavour of research from physics to economics, from architecture to chemistry and even all the way back to their nature-inspired beginnings with numerous applications in biology. So in spite of our knowledge that there is no one method to solve all problems, Genetic Algorithms present us with a versatile and powerful tool that seems to have a lot more in store for our future problem solvers.

Read the second part here.