Particle swarm optimization (PSO) is a popular method to solve the optimization problems. However, calculations for each particle will be excessive when the number of particles and complexity of the problem increases. As a result, the execution speed will be too slow to achieve the optimized solution. Thus, this paper proposes an automated design and optimization method for rotary MRF brakes and similar multiphysics problems. A modified PSO algorithm is developed for solving multi-physics engineering optimization problems. The difference between the proposed method and the conventional PSO is to split up the original single population into several subpopulations according to the division of labor. The distribution of tasks and the transfer of information to the next party have been inspired by behaviors of a hunting party. Simulation results show that the proposed modified PSO algorithm can overcome the problem of heavy computational burden of multi-physics problems while improving the accuracy. Wire type, MR fluid type, magnetic core material, and ideal current inputs have been determined by the optimization process. To the best of the authors' knowledge, this multi-physics approach is novel for optimizing rotary MRF brakes and the developed PSO algorithm is capable of solving other multiphysics engineering optimization problems. The proposed method has showed both better performance compared to the conventional PSO and also has provided small, lightweight, high impedance rotary MRF brake designs. (C) 2018 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.