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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Research about Agile Manufacturing Systems

I recently read a post in a Yahoo group that I am a member of thought was interesting in


Anthony Reardon posted:

"The first thing that came to mind when I read the goal of HMS at the entrance to this site was something I saw on National Geographic I believe. They were doing some deep water exploration and encountered a previously undiscovered form of life. Simply put it was a collective of single cell organisms that had adapted to work together- thereby creating an organization yet not classifiable as a self contained organism in the usual sense. Some had adapted a focus on bringing in materials, others to process, and others to move through. The benefits of the work were distributed throughout the organization. Could represent some of the earliest activities of holonic organization and I think a great starting point for discussion."

My response:

You bring up a very important point with the analogy ot biological systems. I would like to share some classification of the different approaches that have been present specifically relating to manufacturing systems. Most of this research was initiated in the 1990’s and has unfortunately have not evolved much since then as the original researches went in different direction including myself. All these approaches share a common goal - to achieve agility by imitating systems that exhibit chaotic dynamics and emergent behavior, which are the key to agility and of course adaptability. Emergent behavior is how these systems are able to deal with unanticipated situations; in fact this behavior is how they survive, competing with other organism/systems. This may be obvious when you consider the characteristics of agility or, better yet, observe agility in nature. The organisms that you describe have a goal: To sustain themselves and grow. These “unintelligent” living cells achieved symbiosis to create a new life form – that is emergent behavior. Interestingly some of the research in this field focused on “cellular automata” also related to research in the field of Artificial Life.

In general there have been 3 threads of research specific in the manufacturing system domain. They are:

Biologic Manufacturing System: This research was spearheaded by Kanji Ueada in the 90’s. The idea is quite far reaching and tries to imitate the behavior and mechanism of biological systems in a manufacturing systems. The main concepts are “Genetic Coding”, and “self Organization”. In a BMS the cell “attracts” the sub-components it needs, and “repels” the sub-components it produces. Ueda points out that the main problems that present manufacturing system have are caused by the separation of artifacts and information. Thus products and corresponding information are separately processed. He therefore he suggests that like in the realm of life, artifacts and information should be inseparable. This makes the coexistence of such contradictions as flexibility and autonomy possible. Read more here (

Holonic Manufacturing Systems: The main notion of this concept is to imitate human social behavior in manufacturing system, as I posted in a post in this blog and in the Yahoo Group of course.

Fractal Factory: The theory regarding the Fractal Factory has its roots in Germany and was initiated by H.J. Warnecke – as introduced in his book “The Fractal Company (see it on Amazon). Warnecke suggests that the manufacturing systems of the future have to be seen by embracing the whole of reality by using a holistic approach. The Fractal Company attempts to reduce the consideration and phenomena in industry to a common denominator by applying this holistic approach. The term fractal is used because of the nature of fractals, which according to Warnecke should be imitated in the manufacturing systems. It is an independent entity within a corporate structure whose goals and performance can be precisely described. Warnecke lists the following characteristics for fractals: Self-similarity, Self-organization, Self-optimization, Goal-orientation, and Dynamics.

There is also an excellent paper written by some folk at the CSIRO Manufacturing Science & Technology, Preston, Victoria, Australia that compares these difference concepts.

Much of the research at the time was focused on realizing some of the mechanics and behavior of these system using Multi-Agent systems – since the structure and behavior of these systems resembled the same attributes that made Bbiological, Holonic, and Fractal so agile.

My personal area of research during these times was Holonic Manufacturing System as I pointed out in earlier post in the Yahoo group. Take a look at my Blog for some more on HMS as well. If you are interested in more information let me know I can share some publications that I have on these topics.

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