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I recently stumbled across the concept of Multidisciplinary Design Optimization (MDO), sometimes referred to as Multi-Disciplinary Optimization or Multidisciplinary Systems Design Optimization (MSDO), as someone I know was sharing about the applications of Linear Programming, Quadratic Programming etc...to Aerospace Engineering (I am a demand forecasting person, who recently started venturing into the area of supply chain optimization).

It struck me that the concept of MDO and MDO Architectures, and especially the concept of Collaborative Optimization Architectures would be widely applicable in just about any situation where there is a complex organization with multiple interconnected parts, e.g.:

  • A supply chain organization where high level financial decisions need to be optimized, as well as tactical planning and logistics considerations, and operational decisions inside shipping and distribution centers.
  • A online business where marketing targets need to be reconciled with user experience decisions, system capacity constraints, trends in social media and public sentiment, etc...

  • And organization with a large geographical distribution where local decisions, regional decisions, and local decisions need to be reconciled.

...basically any line of business where there are global optimization objectives that need to be reconciled with possibly conflicting local optimization objectives, and these optimization problems involve different teams with different skill sets and domain knowledge.

Yet a search on Google and on Google scholar reveals that MDO seems to be used almost exclusively in the mechanical engineering design context, and nowhere else.

I am missing something? Am I misunderstanding the uses cases that MDO and Collaborative Optimization can solve? or is it just a weird historical accident that other industries haven't caught on to those ideas yet?

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As a student I am doing research in this field, I found Wikipedia's explanation very useful. You are right, most of the applications of MDO are in the field of design for aerospace and mechanical engineering (they may design product, not systems). In these fields, the reconciliation of different teams in the design process completely follows well-known formulas.

For example in a design project of light-weight structure, you need to consider specific mechanical properties(yield stress, buckling, load, internal forces, bending, etc.) which are important for various teams, yet are related through principal laws of mechanics. All these relations can be considered as constraints of a mathematical model.

I hope it helps in explaining the difference (in my opinion and based on my understanding) between MDO and system design optimization.

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