We study interfaces. Our group is fascinated by the complex interactions within engineering systems and with their environments, and the often surprising results of these interactions. We study both the interfaces between system components and the interfaces between disciplinary domains of expertise. Engineers have remarkable disciplinary expertise and deep understanding of individual engineered components, but often interfaces and interactions are much less well understood. We believe that the greatest opportunities for discovery and improvement lie at these interfaces, and our research group is dedicated to expanding human understanding of interfaces related to engineering systems, and capitalizing on this new knowledge to benefit humanity through better system design.

For information about joining the ESDL, please scroll to the bottom of this page.

Ongoing Research

The Engineering System Design Lab at the University of Illinois is engaged currently in three research thrust areas:

Modeling and Optimization of Large-Scale Engineering Systems

Large-scale engineering design problems are challenging due to the large number of components involved, complicated interactions, or numerous design decisions that must be made. A common approach to tackling these large-scale design problems is to partition the system design problem into several smaller subproblems. Sometimes these partitions are made along disciplinary boundaries (e.g., structural design and aerodynamic design), physical boundaries (automotive suspension design and automotive powertrain design), or functional boundaries. A result of this partitioning is interactions that cross partition boundaries. These interactions must be managed carefully; otherwise resulting designs are not system-optimal, i.e., optimal components do not equal an optimal system.

Here at the ESDL we study optimization-based methods for solving decomposed system design problems that produce system-optimal solutions. These integrated methods thoroughly account for system interactions and overall system objectives. Specific research topics include automated partitioning and coordination algorithm decisions, developing system models that facilitate successful system design optimization, system architecture design, and topology optimization. Applications of interest include automotive powertrain design (including hybrid electric powertrains), gas turbine engine design, mechatronic/robotic systems, system electrification, wave energy harvesting, and structural design.

Integrated Physical and Control System Design (Co-Design)

Many engineered systems operate using embedded control systems. The design of these systems is usually split into several distinct sequential steps: physical system design, control system design, and real-time software development. In current practice the system is typically designed in this sequence, where part of the system design is fixed at each stage, reducing design flexibility and opportunity for improvement. It has been demonstrated theoretically and experimentally that these stages of the design process are coupled. In other words, to achieve the best possible system performance, an integrated design approach that considers all aspects of system design simultaneously is required.

Right now we are focusing on design methods that can account for the interaction between physical system and control system design. These integrated design methods produce system-optimal designs and help engineers improve system system performance significantly. In some cases these co-design methods (combined physical and control system design) help reduce the complexity of the system design process, and sometimes help engineers add new system capabilities that were impossible previously.

Implementation of co-design methods is catalyzed by engineers who have experience in both physical system design and control system design, as well as expertise in the interface of these design components. Professor Allison has developed a course to address this need by helping graduate students develop expertise in integrated design methods.

Deployment of fully-integrated co-design methods may be impractical for many engineering firms. We are studying intermediate methods that lie between conventional sequential system design and co-design that may be more easily adopted by engineering organizations as a transitional step toward deploying fully-integrated system design approaches.

Sustainable Energy Design

Security and sustainability of energy systems is a critical issue of increasing importance. Reducing energy consumption, through energy efficiency measures and economic incentives, complements efforts to develop and deploy renewable energy systems. Recent studies indicate that energy efficiency improvements stand to yield rapid and substantial progress toward energy sustainability.

Advanced design techniques, such as design optimization, can aid engineers working to create systems that minimize energy consumption, while maintaining competitive system performance and cost. Enhanced design processes can help on several fronts:

Some relevant projects at the ESDL include electric, hybrid electric, and solar vehicle design, PHEV life cycle analysis, wave energy harvesting, bicycle design, and passenger aircraft design.

While advanced design techniques can help develop energy efficient systems, deploying them on a scale large enough to make meaningful changes requires the right incentives. The technological solution is coupled with economic, cultural, and policy solutions.

Research Opportunities

We are always looking for exceptional graduate and undergraduate students to join our team. We may also be able to host visiting scholars with relevant research interests. If you are passionate about a topic relevant to the ESDL, here are some suggestions for getting involved: