A machine learning approach for propeller design and optimization: Part I

Pranav Sumanth Doijode*, Stefan Hickel, Tom van Terwisga, Klaas Visser

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
74 Downloads (Pure)


This paper introduces a machine learning approach for optimizing propellers. The method aims to improve the computational cost of optimization by reducing the number of evaluations required to find solutions. This is achieved by directing the search towards design clusters with good performance, i.e. high propulsive efficiency and low cavitation. Three types of clusters are expected. The first cluster constitutes designs with performance of interest, i.e. high efficiency and low cavitation. The second cluster constitutes designs with performance not of interest, i.e. low efficiency and high cavitation. The third cluster constitutes designs whose performance cannot be estimated with the Boundary Element Methods (BEM) that we use in this study. In simple cases with single objective optimization to maximize efficiency, these clusters can be identified a-priori with unsupervised classifiers provided that orthogonally independent parameters are used as demonstrated in this paper. For multi-objective constrained optimization, to maximize efficiency and minimize cavitation, for example, supervised classifiers may be required to learn the clusters. Classical design variables such as chordlength, pitch, skew, rake, thickness distribution and camber of hydrofoils cannot be used to identify these clusters because of multicollinearity. Thus, a new orthogonal parametric model is proposed where the parameters are directly derived from the propeller blade mesh. As the blade surface mesh is used as boundary conditions to solve the governing equations, the orthogonal parameters are expected to have a stronger correlation with performance predictions of BEM or Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) than classical design variables. We demonstrate that design clusters with good performance can be identified with few BEM evaluations. Furthermore, the method synergizes explainable supervised and unsupervised learning to advice search algorithms and quickly guide them to lucrative regions in the design space. However, reducing the cost of optimization results in a trade-off with completeness of the search; this is also investigated in this paper. The method is demonstrated on a simple fully wetted flow case of the benchmark Wageningen B-4 70 propeller with P/D=1.0, as the geometry and open-water curves are readily accessible allowing back of the envelope verification and validation of our results.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103178
Number of pages14
JournalApplied Ocean Research
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Dynamic optimization
  • Machine learning
  • Orthogonal parametric model
  • Propeller design and optimization
  • Uncertainty


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