Many industrial optimisation problems involve the challenging task of efficiently searching for optimal decisions from a huge set of possible combinations. The optimal solution is the one that best optimises a set of objectives or goals, such as maximising productivity while minimising costs. If we have a nice mathematical equation for how each objective depends on the decisions we make, then we can usually employ standard mathematical approaches, such as calculus, to find the optimal solution. But what do we do when we have no idea how our decisions affect the objectives, and thus no equations? What if all we have is a small set of experiments, where we have tried to measure the effect of some decisions? How do we make use of this limited information to try to find the best decisions?

This talk will present a common industrial optimisation problem, known as expensive black box optimisation, through a case study from the manufacturing sector. For problems like this, calculus can’t help, and trial and error is not an option! We will introduce some methods and tools for tackling expensive black-box optimisation. Finally, we will discuss new methodologies for assessing the strengths and weaknesses of optimisation methods, to ensure the right method is selected for the right problem.