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Most decisions in life involve trade-offs. Sometimes the trade-off is to cope with conflicting

constraints: I must pay this bill but I must also pay that one— you pay the one that is most

pressing. At other times the trade-off is to balance divergent objectives: I want to be rich

but I also want to be happy—and resolving this is more dificult since you must balance the

two, and wealth is rarely measured in the same units as happiness.

The selection must satisfy several often conflicting constraints. In the design of an aircraft

wing spar, weight must be minimized, with constraints on stiffness, fatigue strength,

toughness and geometry. In the design of a disposable hot-drink cup, cost is what matters; it

must be minimized subject to constraints on stiffness, strength, and thermal conductivity,

though painful experience suggests that designers sometimes neglect the last. In this class

of problem there is one design objective (minimization of weight or cost) with many

constraints. Its solution is straightforward: Apply the constraints in sequence, rejecting at

each step the materials that fail to meet them. The survivors are viable candidates. Rank

them by their ability to meet the single objective and then explore documentation for the

top-ranked candidates. Usually this does the job, but sometimes there is an extra twist.

A second class of problem involves more than one objective, and here the conflict is more

severe. Nature being what it is, the choice of materials that best meets one objective will

not usually be that which best meets others. The designer charged with selecting a material

for a wing spar that must be both light and cheap faces an obvious difficulty: The lightest

materials are not always the least expensive, and vice versa. To make any progress, the

designer needs a way of trading weight against cost—a problem we have not encountered

until now.

There are a number of quick though subjective ways of dealing with multiple constraints and

conflicting objectives: the method of weight factors and methods employing fuzzy logic.

They are discussed in the appendix at the end of this chapter. They are a good way of

getting into the problem, so to speak, but they rely heavily on personal judgment; their

subjective nature must be recognized. Subjectivity is eliminated by employing the active

constraint method to resolve multiple constraints (Section 7.2) and by combining conflicting

objectives into a single penalty function (Section 7.3). These are standard tools of

multicriteria optimization. To use them, we must adopt, in this chapter, the convention that

all objectives are expressed as quantities to be minimized; without it the penalty function

method does not work.

So now the important stuff. Figure 7.1 is the road map. We start on the top path and work

down.

7.2 SELECTION WITH MULTIPLE CONSTRAINTS

Nearly all material selection problems are overconstrained, meaning that there are more

constraints than free variables. We saw multiple constraints in Chapters 5 and 6.

Recapitulating, we identify the constraints and the objective imposed by the design

requirements, and apply the following steps.

■ Screen, using each constraint in turn.

■ Rank, using the performance metric describing the objective (often mass, volume, or cost)

or simply by the value of the material index that appears in the equation for the metric.

■ Seek documentation for the top-ranked candidates and use this to make the final choice.

Steps 1 and 2 are illustrated in Figure 7.2, which we think of as the central methodology.

The box on the left represents screening by imposing constraints on properties, on

requirements such as corrosion resistance, or on the ability to be processed in a certain way.

That on the right—here a bar chart for cost for the surviving candidates—indicates how they

are ranked. All very simple.

But not so fast. There is one little twist. It concerns the special case of a single objective that

can be limited by more than one constraint. As an example, the requirements for a tie-rod

of minimum mass might specify both stiffness and strength, leading to two independent

equations for the

mass. Following exactly the steps of Chapter 5, Equation (5.3), the situation is described by

the chain of reasoning shown in Figure 7.3. If stiffness is the dominant constraint, the mass

of the rod is m1; if it is strength, the mass is m2. If the tie is to meet the requirements on

both, its mass has to be the greater of m1 and m2. Writing

we search for the material that offers the smallest value of em. This is an example of a

“min–max” problem, not uncommon in the world of

optimization. We seek the smallest value (min) of a metric that is the larger (max) of two or

more alternatives.

The analytical method Powerful methods exist for solving min–max problems when the

metric (here, mass) is a continuous function of the control variables (the things on the right

of the two performance equations shown in Figure 7.3). But here one of the control

variables is the material, and we are dealing with a population of materials, each of which

has its own unique values of material properties. The problem is discreet, not continuous.

One way to tackle the problem is to evaluate both m1 and m2 for each member of the

population, assign the larger of the two to each member, and then rank the members by the

assigned value, seeking a minimum. Here is an example.

When there are 3,000 rather than 3 materials to choose from, simple computer codes can

be used to sort and rank them. But this numerical approach lacks visual immediacy and the

stimulus for creative thinking that a more graphical method allows. We describe this next.

The graphical method Suppose, for a population of materials, that we plot m1 against m2 as

suggested by Figure 7.4(a). Each bubble represents a material. (All the variables in both

equations for m1 and m2 are specified except the material, so the only difference between

one bubble and another is the material.) We wish to minimize mass, so the best choices lie

somewhere near the bottom left. But where, exactly? The choice if stiffness is paramount

and strength is unimportant must surely differ from that if the opposite were true. The line

m1 ¼ m2 separates the chart into two regions. In one, m1 > m2 and constraint 1 (stiffness) is

dominant. In the other, m2 > m1 and constraint 2 (strength) dominates. In region 1 our

objective is to minimize m1, since it is the larger of the two; in region 2 the opposite is true.

This defines a box-shaped selection envelope with its corner on the m1 ¼ m2 line. The

nearer the box is pulled to the bottom left, the smaller is em. The best choice is the last

material left in the box.

This explains the idea, but there is a better way to implement it. Figure 7.4(a), with m1 and

m2 as axes, is specific to single values of L_, S_; and F_f ; if these change we need a new

chart. Suppose, instead, that we plot the material indices M1 ¼ρ /=E and M2 ¼ρ /=σy that

are contained in the performance equations, as shown in Figure 7.4(b). Each bubble still

represents a material, but now its position depends only on material properties, not on the

values

of L_, S_; and F_f . The condition m1 ¼ m2, substituting from Equations (7.2) and (7.3) in

Figure 7.3, yields the relationship

This describes a line of slope 1, in a position that depends on the value of L_S_=F_f . We

refer to this line as the coupling line and to L_S_=F_f as the coupling constant, symbol Cc.

The selection strategy remains the same: A box, with its corner on the coupling line, is

pulled down toward the bottom left. But the chart is now more general, covering all values

of L_, S_; and F_f . Changing either one of these, or the geometry of the component (here

described by L*) moves the coupling line and changes the selections.

Worked examples are given in Chapter 8.

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