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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What are Holonic Manufacturing Systems?

I thought that I would start some posts in this blog about some previous research that I have been involved in- Holonic Manufacturing Systems. I feel that the theory and the fundamental problem that it addresses are still very relevant in todays world - and maybe even more so?

The Holonic Manufacturing System (HMS) is a new paradigm for next-generation manufacturing systems, which presents a concept that can be used to achieve agile manufacturing systems. It suggests a new paradigm in manufacturing, which changes our old outlook, yet brings many challenging technical problems to solve. The HMS theory focuses specifically on the field of manufacturing control and information technology in manufacturing. HMS is aimed at meeting the challenges of manufacturing environment for mass customization or low-volume and high-variety products. The idea behind HMS is to provide a dynamic and decentralized manufacturing process, in which humans are effectively integrated, so that changes can be made dynamically and continuously.

The central concept of HMS is the term “Holon”, which originates from the work of A. Koestler. A Holon is defined as simultaneously a whole and a part of the whole, thus it can be made up of other holons. This property ensures that holons are stable forms, which can survive disturbances. Furthermore, a Holon is autonomous and co-operative and sometimes intelligent. This property ensures that they are intermediate forms, which provide the proper functionality for the form they are part of. Alternatively, holons have a self-assertive tendency, which is a manifestation of their autonomous nature, and have an integrative tendency, which expresses dependence on the larger whole or their co-operative nature. The Holon's hybrid characteristics allows for entities that co-operate with other entities by offering services to them (servers) and at the same time can act autonomously as free a entity (free agent).

Finally the notion of a “holarchy” is introduced as a dynamic hierarchy of self-regulating holons. The strength of a holonic organization, or holarchy, is that it enables the construction of very complex systems that are nonetheless efficient in the use of resources, highly resilient to disturbances (both internal and external), and adaptable to changes in the environment in which they exist. The HMS paradigm seeks to translate this con­cept, that Koestler developed for social organizations and living organisms, into a set of appro­priate concepts for manufacturing industries. The concept combines the best features of hierarchical and heterarchical (the opposite of a hierarchical) organization, since it pre­serves the stability of a hierarchy while provid­ing the dynamic flexibility of heter­archy.

I know that this is very academic - I will follow up with some posts that exemplify this theory in the future. What do you think?


Nascent Dynamics ( ) said...

It seems "this" old computer allows me to respond.

I think the post is terrific. I have been studying your list of references on the Holonics forum. Today I am refering to this post and will provide my detailed notes there and here.

So far, it seems the fundamental science of holonic organization is suitable for a dynamic manufacturing environment. I can see some of the research into biological systems being applied across intelligent controls and social organization within an operation to allow for more agility under pressures. However, the attention going into the research seems to be far deeper than the actual applied theories in low volume/ high mix manufacturing problems.

The traditional organization structure returns to default naturally, much like a homeostatic equillibrium. We experienced this in the military with Command and Control doctrine. The organizational methodology allowed for commanders to direct order by way of intent and trained field level to excercise judgement in the absence/ interruption of direct communications or failure of line integrity. However, the trade off was sometimes what we called "hurry up and wait"- misapplied direction, beaurocratic friction between groups, poor judgement, and other forms of friction that could reach near chaos. We did train for this and had the benefit of an experienced, tested, and proven learning organization with a primary focus on results. Simply put, it was hard to hold it altogether when we didn't have a challenge in front of us. The best thing to do is to continuously stress the system with increasing skill acquisition and difficulty of challenges.

Perhaps this translates to the challenge of holonics in manufacturing. Living systems necessarily require a build up/ break down cycle and must be permitted to grow and evolve. You can't do that in a static environment. You must add feul to the fire and push the limits in order to bring out and have ready the best agile qualities possible.

I think that might change the perspective on continuous improvement from a goal to given need. To truly create an agile operation, you need to be willing to take risks and accept consequences. Generally, I doubt most conventional managers are up to this. They would rather find steady results, avoid set backs, and settle.

I wonder if that is why the research into HMS reached a relative stopping point. Still slightly useful and particularly applicable to computer or mechanical engineering levels. However, I feel I can make sense of it from an organizational standpoint. So thanks for offering the information and other useful references.



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