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Industrial Processes
Agriculture and Food Title

Right recipe for food producers

In the food industry, a change may happen every few hours and cause scheduling nightmares for producers. Special offers and rapid changes in demand force manufacturers and distributors of food and other short shelf-life and fast turnover products into hectic rescheduling of their operations. A single food line might have the capacity to manufacture 400 types of products, and every change of product requires rescheduling the supply of numerous raw materials.
This project developed a software toolbox that enables companies to be much more efficient in scheduling such production, which is a better use of resources. In addition, ScheduleZ allows them to be more responsive to their customers' changing demands.

Shop floor managers in food manufacturing plants spend much of their time trying to juggle customers' rapidly changing demands for an often random range of products. Because many producers of fast turnover foods promise to meet customers' orders within 24 hours, they have to rapidly clean their production lines and switch them to different products before they can supply the correct raw materials and packaging materials from a vast range of possibilities.
The problems of such batch production are compounded by the need to cater to frequent special offers, such as the addition of a free packet of crisps in a multi-pack of different flavours, and for the use of special packaging. Customers often end up dissatisfied.
ScheduleZ was set up to produce a software tool box that would allow manufacturers and distributors to create plans and schedules for more efficient production. Although there were software systems already on the market, they did not take account of the particular conditions of the food and other fast moving manufacturing sectors.

Combined approach

ScheduleZ, coordinated by the systems company MJC2 of the UK, combined several commonly used approaches to the development of software in order to exploit their best features. The different approaches may be suitable for different scheduling circumstances. For example, rule based or artificial intelligence systems, can be useful in some circumstances, but in practice they are slow and it is difficult to generate enough rules.
A second approach involves the use of operational research based on matrixes, but not every aspect of a system can be defined by mathematical models. The ScheduleZ team included two large end users of scheduling systems, Compal of Portugal and KP Foods of the UK. Together with the system houses MJC2 and Syco, the Portuguese research organisation Uninova, and Italy's main engineering university PoliTo in Turin, the partners looked at existing models and generic algorithms and developed their own software systems. (Eventually KP largely withdrew from the project because of internal problems.)

Demonstration packages

The collaborators tested two demonstrators. The system at Compal's fruit juice and tomato pulp factory was based on the G++ programming language developed from C++, and the system installed at KP's potato and cereal snacks factory combined Prolog, C++ and a G++ based Scada management system.
The Compal system initially combined the annual planning at the factory and short-term planning for the following month, but this was found to take too much computer time and was replaced by a heuristic approach based on 'greedy' software rules. The KP system was developed with the emphasis on relating staffing to the use of machines and production at the factory, although it was general enough for many other factories manufacturing fast-moving consumer products.
Four largely independent relationships were established which could be built up into an accurate staffing model by summing their contributions. The resulting system can define the number of shifts needed each day, the lengths of shifts and the start times, and is seen as a major benefit of ScheduleZ. For example, shift configurations can be related to the changes that sales and production make in the stock levels of different products, so that the programme can take account of the effect of a schedule on stocks as it works out the best production plan. As a result, the system can also produce stock profiles.
ScheduleZ can also cope with the manufacturing technique of specifying acceptable stock levels rather than specific production levels. The user of ScheduleZ has been given more control by the introduction of schedule frameworks which allow factories to continue with their existing work patterns and practices within ScheduleZ systems. This should ensure that there can be a smooth switch over to automated scheduling.
A generic optimising algorithm to allow efficient changeover and delivery deadlines has also been developed based on constraints. The constraints include timings such as speed of bagging and the earliest possible start of production, changeover targets, unavailability and the pre-assignment of resources. The resulting ScheduleZ can take into account scheduling parameters, machine configuration, manufacturing constraints and product information.

Factory-wide use

The project was also very successful in its use of OOD reusable code libraries and software based on frameworks. A distribution framework, Colombo, was adopted to allow a prototype of an application to be turned into a distributed working version. Typically this means that a system can be set up throughout a factory on a client/server basis.
Pepsico's Walkers crisps factories in the UK uses a PIMSS software system based on ScheduleZ to schedule production at four plants. Prior to the use of PIMSS, the Walkers factories were achieving a customer satisfaction of about 75%; this rose to 98% within four weeks of adopting the scheduling package. Similar improvements have been recorded elsewhere. To ease the use of the software, the collaborators developed a strategic planning editor which allows an operator to provide inputs and see the production plan graphically, split into periods as short as one hour over up to a year, along with measures such as stocks and accumulated production.
The operator can also choose to display data as lines, bars and area charts. Tied in with ScheduleZ is a simulation framework for Scada management of production plants, able to model and then monitor events such as machine start-ups and failures.
The success of this project has led to MJC2 considering applying the software to the petrol and oil industries as well as the textile sector. The company also believes it can apply the ScheduleZ approach to the manufacture of paper to optimise production. MJC2 believes that it could produce up to 20 ScheduleZ systems a year worth about 2.5 MECU and generate a profit of about 1.5 MECU. This project has also led to improvements in the courses run by Uninova and the main engineering university of Turin.



Project Title:  
Dynamic scheduling toolbox

Industrial and Materials Technologies (BRITE-EURAM/CRAFT/SMT)

Contract Reference: BE-4140

Cordis DatabaseFor more information on this project,
go to the CORDIS Database Record