The Australian Research Council (ARC) awarded a team led by ACEMS Chief Investigator Kate Smith-Miles nearly $5-million to create a new ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centre to bring cutting-edge optimisation research to industry.
It will be called the ARC Training Centre in Optimisation Technologies, Integrated Methodologies, and Applications (OPTIMA). OPTIMA will be a partnership between The University of Melbourne, Monash University, three international institutions, and 11 industry partners.
"I am super excited about the impact we can achieve through OPTIMA because I know how much our partners will be relying on advanced optimisation tools to drive critical industrial transformation," says Centre Director and Melbourne Professor Kate Smith-Miles.
The industry partners are from the advanced manufacturing, energy resources and critical infrastructure sectors. They include Boeing, AGL Energy, IBM, and Melbourne Water.
"These companies come from different sectors, but all recognise that mathematics can help them make better decisions," says Kate.
"Their optimisation problems are as diverse as aircraft design, optimising renewable energy generation, and balancing water dispatch to consumers while protecting the habitat of animal species in rivers."
"We are talking about very complex industrial problems where there is so much uncertainty, and massive amounts of data to digest. Despite many constraints that restrict their choices, the combination of options is still so large that it is impossible to evaluate every possible scenario to find the optimal decision."
"Optimisation techniques eliminate decisions that are mathematically provable as non-optimal while automating the search through good solutions to find the best decision while avoiding tedious trial and error testing."
Including Kate, there will be 18 Chief Investigators from Melbourne and Monash. They include five other members from ACEMS, including ACEMS Director Peter Taylor, ACEMS Chief Investigator Rob Hyndman, and ACEMS Associate Investigators Alysson Costa, Mark Fackrell, and Joyce Zhang. The other Chief investigators span other key academic disciplines that contribute to the field of optimisation.
One of the goals of the Centre is to bring these optimisation disciplines together. Kate says the "IM" in OPTIMA is for integrating methodologies across these disciplines.
"The field of optimisation is found in many different university departments, and not just mathematics and statistics, but in economics, computer science and engineering. The methods and terminology are different, and yet the goals are still the same. We are automating optimal decision making," says Kate.
"OPTIMA will uniquely harness the academic expertise that cuts across all those disciplines to produce an industry-ready optimisation toolkit, developed in partnership with industry."
The final goal of the Centre will be to train a new generation of more than 120 young researchers who will work closely with the industry partners.
"Our partners are really keen to work with the students and to upskill their workforce in the process. We want the optimisation techniques that we develop in the Centre to become part of the standard toolkit in industry, not just something that you have to approach a university to access. For the long term sustainability of industrial transformation, with critical decision-making challenges ahead in most sectors, it is vital that state-of-the-art optimisation techniques are adopted and embedded within every sector's workforce capability," says Kate.
The total funding received from the ARC, The University of Melbourne, Monash University, and OPTIMA's industry partners totals more than $8-million in cash, with considerably more in-kind contributions from industry. The funding will support the establishment and running of the Centre for five years – including salaries for a team of postdoctoral researchers and scholarships for PhD students.
CEMS Director Peter Taylor is excited to play a role in the new Centre.
"It is thrilling to see this bid grow out of ACEMS, and so we can definitely think of OPTIMA as part of ACEMS' legacy," says Peter.