An approach to the development of expert systems within production planning and control
The thesis presents an account of an attempt to utilize expert systems within the domain of production planning and control. The use of expert systems was proposed due to the problematical nature of a particular function within British Steel Strip Products' Operations Department: the function of Order Allocation, allocating customer orders to a production week and site. Approaches to tackling problems within production planning and control are reviewed, as are the general capabilities of expert systems. The conclusions drawn are that the domain of production planning and control contains both `soft' and `hard' problems, and that while expert systems appear to be a useful technology for this domain, this usefulness has by no means yet been demonstrated. Also, it is argued that the main stream methodology for developing expert systems is unsuited for the domain. A problem-driven approach is developed and used to tackle the Order Allocation function. The resulting system, UAAMS, contained two expert components. One of these, the scheduling procedure was not fully implemented due to inadequate software. The second expert component, the product routing procedure, was untroubled by such difficulties, though it was unusable on its own; thus a second system was developed. This system, MICRO-X10, duplicated the function of X10, a complex database query routine used daily by Order Allocation. A prototype version of MICRO-X10 proved too slow to be useful but allowed implementation and maintenance issues to be analysed. In conclusion, the usefulness of the problem-driven approach to expert systems development within production planning and control is demonstrated but restrictions imposed by current expert system software are highlighted in that the abilities of such software to cope with `hard' scheduling constructs and also the slow processing speeds of such software can restrict the current usefulness of expert systems within production planning and control.