Modeling, simulation, and optimization play vital roles throughout the engineering design process; however, in many design disciplines the cost of simulation is high, and designers are faced with a tradeoff between the number of alternatives that can be evaluated and the accuracy with which they are evaluated. In this paper, a methodology is presented for using models of various levels of fidelity during the optimization process. The intent is to use inexpensive, low-fidelity models with limited accuracy to recognize poor design alternatives and reserve the high-fidelity, accurate, but also expensive models only to characterize the best alternatives. Specifically, by setting a user-defined performance threshold, the optimizer can explore the design space using a low-fidelity model by default, and switch to a higher fidelity model only if the performance threshold is attained. In this manner, the high fidelity model is used only to discern the best solution from the set of good solutions, so computational resources are conserved until the optimizer is close to the solution. This makes the optimization process more efficient without sacrificing the quality of the solution. The method is illustrated by optimizing the trajectory of a hydraulic backhoe. To characterize the robustness and efficiency of the method, a design space exploration is performed using both the low and high fidelity models, and the optimization problem is solved multiple times using the variable fidelity framework.

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