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How Artificial Intelligence is Being Used to Improve Business Efficiency: Scheduling Software

September 23, 2020

In this blog we examine how university course scheduling gave rise to applications that can support factory production processes, and that is just the start.

Some years ago, I was at a conference and heard a gentleman from a Canadian software supplier lament that he had been involved in discussions about the academic scheduling environment for most of his working life. He had doubtless been involved with such biennial conferences as the Practice and Theory of Automated Timetabling (PATAT). It was the early 2000s, and he was expressing the view that at that point we were as far from finding a solution to automate the academic timetabling process as ever. Since then things have progressed. But this field of research has broadened to encompass many processes.

In recent years, EventMAP was approached because of its experience with advanced scheduling algorithms. We were invited to undertake a project in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Technology Centre (NITC), located at Queens University Belfast, to develop a modelling tool that could be used in the production of commercial aircraft wings. This was a real-life application, working in a major production facility with one of the world's leading aircraft manufacturers. As one can imagine, this is a highly technical field, with the assembly of aircraft wings bringing together a range of disciplines, and many skills. Any hold-up in the manufacturing process is potentially expensive. For the industry at this time, modelling the progress of production from inception to completion relied on a large team of analysts working with spreadsheets, sometimes for months on end. Their role was to model the progress of the production process, identify where changes could improve productivity, and then model those scenarios to determine the impact. This was a slow, laborious task, because the activity of simulating, or modelling the fabrication process could take weeks or months. It is easy to understand how identifying methods to improve productivity, without compromising quality and safety, could result in wasted time and money. Production would necessarily be engaged in inefficient methodologies whilst improvements were found.

The goal of the project was to produce a software solution, that could model the manufacturing process, and allow the organisation to significantly reduce the time, and effort, involved in modelling production scenarios. EventMAP’s experience, coupled with their leading-edge algorithms proved an ideal choice to produce a solution to this problem. Taking technology using the EventMAP Optime Scheduling engine, enabled us to produce a tool that would allow the client to simulate various production scenarios. This enabled them to then quickly identify ways of improving productivity, as the wings moved through the fabrication process. It allowed the commissioning company to take a modelling exercise that would take months or weeks to deliver a result, and reduce that to a matter of days or hours. Now someone could suggest a way of reducing a production bottleneck, and the scenarios could quickly be modelled to ensure it delivered the desired result without creating issues elsewhere in the production process. It also allowed the level of improvement to be measured. This meant that even small incremental improvements could be modelled, and then the cumulative benefits from multiple such simulations could be calculated. The lead project developer, Mark McGucken, made the point that, ‘this scenario illustrates how a scheduling problem in one sector (education) can be deployed to help in another sector entirely (manufacturing engineering and operations management). In this case the production of commercial aircraft wings.’

Of course, it has to be said, that this method can be applied to many scenarios. This list is probably only limited by the imagination. Think of vehicle production lines, the production of confectionary, in-fact anything, from widgets to garments, even train or aircraft flight schedules.

To further illustrate the scope of benefits that can be derived from this type of artificial intelligence (AI). We recently highlighted a project we had been involved with at Channel 4 (a UK TV broadcasting company). Channel 4’s revenue is supported by advertising. But certain rules apply around the equitable apportioning of advertising, so that no individual advertiser gets a disproportionate amount of time during more favourable timeslots. For Channel 4 this also needs to be balanced with the maximising of advertising revenue. Therefore, EventMAP was again called upon to use its experience in the use of advanced scheduling algorithms, to create a solution that could manage this process. Taking the Optime scheduling engine, we were able to produce a tool that has now been in use managing advertising schedules for the corporation since October 2019. It is having a direct impact on improved revenue and advertising fairness.

What do both of these examples prove?

They demonstrate that advanced scheduling tools, such as the EventMAP Optime engine, can have a direct and beneficial impact in areas way beyond that for which they were originally developed. This is without counting the many other benefits we have recently discussed through our blogs, particularly in the area of planning the use of office, training and teaching workspaces during the current Coronavirus pandemic.

If you would like to know more, about how scheduling tools may be able to improve your commercial process, check out some of our case studies here. Or contact us, we would love to discuss your situation and ways in which we can improve your businesses productivity.

Vernon Chapman


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