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Expert simulation for on-line scheduling

The state-of-the-art in manufacturing has moved toward flexibility, automation and integration. The efforts spent on bringing computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) to plant floors have been motivated by the overall thrust to increase the speed of new products to market. One of the links in CIM is plant floor scheduling, which is concerned with efficiently orchestrating the plant floor to meet the customer demand and responding quickly to changes on the plant floor and changes in customer demand. The Expert System Scheduler (ESS) has been developed to address this link in CIM. The scheduler utilizes real-time plant information to generate plant floor schedules which honor the factory resource constraints while taking advantage of the flexibility of its components. The scheduler uses heuristics developed by an experienced human factory scheduler for most of the decisions involved in scheduling. The expertise of the human scheduler has been built into the computerized version using the expert system approach of the discipline of artificial intelligence (AI). Deterministic simulation concepts have been used to develop the schedule and determine the decision points. As such, simulation modeling and AI techniques share many concepts, and the two disciplines can be used synergistically. Examples of some common concepts are the ability of entities to carry attributes and change dynamically (simulation—entities/attributes or transaction/parameters versus AI—frames/slots); the ability to control the flow of entities through a model of the system (simulation—conditional probabilities versus AI—production rules); and the ability to change the model based upon state variables (simulation—language constructs based on variables versus AI—pattern-invoked programs). Shannon [6] highlights similarities and differences between conventional simulation and an AI approach. Kusiak and Chen [3] report increasing use of simulation in development of expert systems. ESS uses the synergy between AI techniques and simulation modeling to generate schedules for plant floors. Advanced concepts from each of the two areas are used in this endeavor. The expert system has been developed using frames and object-oriented coding which provides knowledge representation flexibility. The concept of “backward” simulation, similar to the AI concept of backward chaining, is used to construct the events in the schedule. Some portions of the schedule are constructed using forward or conventional simulation. The implementation of expert systems and simulation concepts is intertwined in ESS. However, the application of the concepts from these two areas will be treated separately for ease of presentation. We will first discuss the expert system approach and provide a flavor of the heuristics. The concept of backward simulation and the motive behind it will then be explored along with some details of the implementation and the plant floor where the scheduler is currently being used. We will then highlight some advantages and disadvantages of using the expert simulation approach for scheduling, and, finally, the synergetic relationship between expert systems and simulation.

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