Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Mechanical Engineering


Mechanical Engineering; Human Computer Interaction

First Advisor

Eliot Winer


Engineers tasked with designing large and complex systems are continually in need of decision-making aids able to sift through enormous amounts of data produced through simulation and experimentation. Understanding these systems often requires visualizing multidimensional design data. Visual cues such as size, color, and symbols are often used to denote specific variables (dimensions) as well as characteristics of the data. However, these cues are unable to effectively convey information attributed to a system containing more than three dimensions. Two general techniques can be employed to reduce the complexity of information presented to an engineer: dimension reduction, and individual variable comparison. Each approach can provide a comprehensible visualization of the resulting design space, which is vital for an engineer to decide upon an appropriate optimization algorithm.

Visualization techniques, such as self-organizing maps (SOMs), offer powerful methods able to surmount the difficulties of reducing the complexity of n-dimensional data by producing simple to understand visual representations that quickly highlight trends to support decision-making. The SOM can be extended by providing relevant output information in the form of contextual labels. Furthermore, these contextual labels can be leveraged to visualize a set of output maps containing statistical evaluations of each node residing within a trained SOM. These maps give a designer a visual context to the data set’s natural topology by highlighting the nodal performance amongst the maps. A drawback to using SOMs is the clustering of promising points with predominately less desirable data. Similar data groupings can be revealed from the trained output maps using visualization techniques such as the SOM, but these are not inherently cluster analysis methods.

Cluster analysis is an approach able to assimilate similar data objects into “natural groups” from an otherwise unknown prior knowledge of a data set. Engineering data composed of design alternatives with associated variable parameters often contain data objects with unknown classification labels. Consequently, identifying the correct classifications can be difficult and costly. This thesis applies a cluster analysis technique to SOMs to segment a high-dimensional dataset into “meta-clusters”. Furthermore, the thesis will describe the algorithm created to establish these meta-clusters through the development of several computational metrics involving intra and inter cluster densities. The results from this work show the presented algorithm’s ability to narrow a large-complex system’s plethora of design alternatives into a few overarching set of design groups containing similar principal characteristics, which saves the time a designer would otherwise spend analyzing numerous design alternatives.


Copyright Owner

Adam Robert Kohl



File Format


File Size

82 pages