Meeting Consumer Demands: Algorithm Optimization

Ferguson Recognized for Contributions to Sawtooth Software

From his position as Associate Professor in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, Dr. Scott Ferguson’s long-term goal is to improve system design by exploring how customer needs and preferences impact engineering design decisions. He envisions a world that does this by advancing the state-of-the-art in engineering design theory and design automation. “In doing this we create tools and methodologies that help engineers navigate the interdisciplinary challenges associated with designing consumer products and complex systems,” explains Ferguson.

Dr. Ferguson’s research addresses the science of engineering design and is motivated by the challenge that engineers must constantly balance tradeoffs. These tradeoffs result from the organizational, political and human interactions that serve to define the criteria under which the system operates. For any engineering problem, even the most basic decisions require making tradeoffs to maximize the value of the design.

Dr. Ferguson and his team draw upon research in design theory, mult-objective /multi-disciplinary optimization, customer preference modeling, and complex systems. Based on his reputation in this regard, he is being recognized for his work with Sawtooth Software, a company that provides online survey software and conjoint analysis tools.

Regarding Scott’s direct influence, product optimization algorithms are important for many who consult in marketing sciences. Sawtooth Software has offered product optimization search algorithms as an advanced extension to their market simulation software. Scott’s research has shown how to use more intelligent targeted population starting points for genetic algorithms (rather than the typically used random starts) to improve the speed and optimality of the solutions. With Scott’s help, Sawtooth is currently working to implement targeted starting points into the next version of their software.

Lately, Scott has been emphasizing how to balance efficiencies in product line manufacturing with preference optimization in terms of consumer demand. Product lines that create cost efficiencies by sharing key and costly components across multiple products create much more value for the firm while also improving the array of offerings for consumers. Scott recently also served on an expert panel during the recent Turbo Choice Modeling seminar at the 2018 Sawtooth Software Conference. “We are extremely grateful to the generosity and expertise of academics like Scott who are making important contributions to marketing sciences and economics,” says Bryan Orme, President of Sawtooth Software.

Dr. Ferguson arrived at NC State in the Fall of 2008 and has taught undergraduate courses in Dynamics (MAE 208), Introduction to Aerospace Engineering (MAE 250), Aerospace Vehicle Performance (MAE 251), Introduction to Space Flight (MAE 453) and Fundamentals of Product Design (MAE 426). He has also created graduate-level classes in Engineering Design Optimization (MAE 531) and the Fundamentals of Product Design is also offered at the graduate level (MAE 526).