An investigation into the use of knowledge representation in computer-integrated manufacturing
In a certain automobile factory, batch-painting of the body types in colours is controlled by an allocation system. This tries to balance production with orders, whilst making optimally-sized batches of colours. Sequences of cars entering painting cannot be optimised for easy selection of colour and batch size. `Over-production' is not allowed, in order to reduce buffer stocks of unsold vehicles. Paint quality is degraded by random effects. This thesis describes a toolkit which supports IKBS in an object-centred formalism. The intended domain of use for the toolkit is flexible manufacturing. A sizeable application program was developed, using the toolkit, to test the validity of the IKBS approach in solving the real manufacturing problem above, for which an existing conventional program was already being used. A detailed statistical analysis of the operating circumstances of the program was made to evaluate the likely need for the more flexible type of program for which the toolkit was intended. The IKBS program captures the many disparate and conflicting constraints in the scheduling knowledge and emulates the behaviour of the program installed in the factory. In the factory system, many possible, newly-discovered, heuristics would be awkward to represent and it would be impossible to make many new extensions. The representation scheme is capable of admitting changes to the knowledge, relying on the inherent encapsulating properties of object-centres programming to protect and isolate data. The object-centres scheme is supported by an enhancement of the `C' programming language and runs under BSD 4.2 UNIX. The structuring technique, using objects, provides a mechanism for separating control of expression of rule-based knowledge from the knowledge itself and allowing explicit `contexts', within which appropriate expression of knowledge can be done. Facilities are provided for acquisition of knowledge in a consistent manner.