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**Modeling uncertain activity duration by fuzzy number
**

and discrete-event simulation

Hong Zhang

a,

*

, C.M. Tam

b

, Heng Li

a

a

Department of Building and Real Estate, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Humg Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong

b

Department of Building and Construction, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Received 20 March 2003; accepted 21 January 2004

Available online 24 March 2004

Abstract

This paper introduces how to incorporate fuzzy set theory and a fuzzy ranking measure with discrete-event simu-

lation in order to model uncertain activity duration in simulating a real-world system, especially when insuﬃcient or no

sample data are available. Fuzzy numbers are used to describe uncertain activity durations, reﬂecting vagueness,

imprecision and subjectivity in the estimation of them. A fuzzy ranking measure is merged with an activity scanning

simulation algorithm for performing fuzzy simulation time advancement and event selection for simulation experi-

mentation. The uses of the fuzzy activity duration and the probability distribution-modeled duration are compared

through a series of simulation experiments. It is observed that the fuzzy simulation outputs are arrived at through only

one cycle of fuzzy discrete-event simulation, still they contain all the statistical information that are produced through

multiple cycles of simulation experiments when the probability distribution approach is adopted.

Ó 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Discrete-event simulation; Fuzzy sets theory; Fuzzy number; Fuzzy ranking; Uncertainty activity duration

1. Introduction

Discrete-event simulation is used to describe

and analyze the behavior of a system, ask what-if

questions about the real system, and aid analysis

and design of management policies for the con-

struction process. Developing a simulation model,

namely modeling, is key to discrete-event simula-

tion. Input modeling for deﬁning the information

or parameters of a system being modeled strictly

determines the quality of the simulation results

(Maio et al., 2000). Inappropriate input leads to

misleading simulation outputs, and therefore

error-prone or sub-optimal planning and man-

agement decisions (Stephen, 1999). Diﬃculties in

input modeling, including the lack of conﬁdence in

input information, have limited the use of discrete-

event simulation as a practical tool for construc-

tion (Fente et al., 2000).

Generally, modeling activity duration is ach-

ieved through importing observed data or proba-

bility distributions derived from sample data.

*

Corresponding author. Tel.: +852-27665795; fax: +852-

27645131.

E-mail addresses: bszhangh@polyu.edu.hk (H. Zhang),

bctam@cityu.edu.hk (C.M. Tam), bshengli@polyu.edu.hk

(H. Li).

0377-2217/$ - see front matter Ó 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

doi:10.1016/j.ejor.2004.01.035

European Journal of Operational Research 164 (2005) 715–729

www.elsevier.com/locate/dsw

However, the use of real data in simulation is

time-consuming taken to collect large amounts of

ﬁeld data for reproduction of the real operation

system (Law and Kelton, 1991). The deﬁnition of

probability distributions is considered to be

intractable; theoretically too complicated and

computationally too expensive (Gaul, 1981; Klein,

1986). The issues on how to deﬁne probability

distributions for activity duration through sample

data in the construction ﬁeld have been widely

studied (AbouRizk and Halpin, 1992; Fente et al.,

2000; Maio et al., 2000; Wilson et al., 1982; Klein

and Baris, 1990; Touran, 1997; Weiler, 1965). It is

concluded that some real-life characteristics may

be left out if a small number of data are collected;

the goodness-of-ﬁt between data and distributions

may be weak even when a large number of data are

available. Hence subjectivities in selecting distri-

butions and estimating related parameters are

unavoidable (Nasution, 1999; Fente et al., 2000;

Lu, 2002). The most diﬃcult aspect of duration-

input modeling is gathering data of suﬃcient

quality, quantity, and variety (Stephen, 1998).

However, in some contexts it may be impossible or

infeasible to collect data due to, for example, the

uniqueness of construction activities and some-

times labor agreements that preclude collection of

performance data, while for other cases there may

be insuﬃcient time or personnel to carry out

extensive data collection.

In respect to such situations, the estimation of

activity durations by experienced engineers or ex-

perts is often adopted. Therefore, more often than

not, there is subjectivity, vagueness or imprecision

in the estimated activity duration. Further, there

are some activity-duration uncertainties charac-

terizing the real-world construction process due to

factors such as changing weather conditions,

equipment properties, labor eﬃciency, supply

conditions of materials and coordination problems

among stakeholders, etc. Fuzzy set theory (Zadeh,

1965; Bellman and Zadeh, 1970) provides a good

mathematical methodology to describe and handle

the problem of vague and imprecise activity

durations.

Fuzzy set theory has been applied to network-

based planning techniques by some scholars such

as Duobis and Prade (1988), Nasution (1999),

Chanas and Kamburowski (1981), and Lootsma

(1989). In addition, fuzzy set theory has been ap-

plied to modeling uncertain production environ-

ments through continuous simulation (Dohnal,

1983; Fishwick, 1991; Negi and Les, 1992; Petrovic

et al., 1998; Southall and Wyatt, 1988). Fuzzy

logical control has been integrated with discrete-

event simulation to model ﬂexible activity start

conditions and fuzzy-ruled computation of activity

duration varying with the amounts of involved

materials (Zhang et al., 2003). Examples of mod-

eling fuzzily estimated activity durations through

combining the fuzzy set theory with the discrete-

event simulation are scarce, especially for the

construction-oriented simulation.

The combination of fuzzy set theory with dis-

crete-event simulation to handle subjectivity,

vagueness or imprecision in estimating activity

duration so as to solve some problems in using

probability distributions is presented in this paper.

In addition, a fuzzy ranking measure and its

application to the control of fuzzy-time advance-

ment and event selection for the simulation exper-

iment of discrete-event simulation are described.

Illustrations on the fuzzy discrete-event simulation

and an example that compares the fuzzy discrete-

event simulation with the traditional probability

distribution-based simulation are also provided.

2. Description of activity duration with triangular

or trapezoidal fuzzy number

Although many types of fuzzy sets (Zadeh,

1965) have been used to describe uncertainties,

triangular and trapezoidal fuzzy sets (Fig. 1) are

very often used in the applications (e.g., fuzzy

controllers and managerial decision-making) be-

cause the parameters deﬁning them can be easily

speciﬁed in linguistic terms (Yoon, 1996; Bojadziev

and Bojadziev, 1997). In addition, only triangular

or trapezoidal fuzzy sets suit the fuzzy ranking

measure (Tran and Duzkstein, 2002) that will be

introduced in Section 4. Therefore, triangular or

trapezoidal fuzzy sets are applied to describe

uncertain activity duration in the research. Fuzzy

numbers are the fuzzy sets that are normalized and

convex (Bojadziev and Bojadziev, 1997). Accord-

716 H. Zhang et al. / European Journal of Operational Research 164 (2005) 715–729

ingly triangular or trapezoidal fuzzy sets can be

called triangular or trapezoidal fuzzy numbers.

An uncertain activity duration can be described

by a fuzzy number deﬁned by its membership

function l

D

ðxÞ, associated with numerical value

in the interval of [0,1], i.e. D ¼ fðx; l

D

ðxÞÞjx 2 D;

l

D

ðxÞ 2 ½0; 1g. When activity duration is described

using linguistic terms such as ‘‘most likely about

D

m

or between D

m1

and D

m2

, but deﬁnitely not less

than D

1

and not greater than Fig. 1 D

2

’’, the tri-

angular or trapezoidal fuzzy numbers (Fig. 1)

describing such an activity duration have the fol-

lowing membership functions:

l

D

ðxÞ ¼

xÀD

1

D

m1

ÀD

1

; D

1

6x 6D

m1

and D

1

6¼ D

m1

;

1; D

m1

6x 6D

m2

;

xÀD

2

D

m2

ÀD

2

; D

m2

6x 6D

2

and D

m2

6¼ D

2

;

0; otherwise:

8

>

>

>

<

>

>

>

:

ð1Þ

A trapezoidal fuzzy number can be reduced to a

triangular one when D

m1

¼ D

m2

. The triangular

and trapezoidal fuzzy numbers are deﬁned by

three and four variables, respectively, as denoted

by (D

1

, D

m1

, D

2

) or (D

1

, D

m1

, D

m2

, D

2

). Therefore a

triangular fuzzy number (D

1

, D

m1

, D

2

) can be

written in the form of a trapezoidal fuzzy number

(D

1

, D

m1

, D

m1

, D

2

).

3. Simulation advancement problems with fuzzy

activity duration

Discrete-event simulation experimentation is

guided by a simulation strategy, which is generally

classiﬁed into three types: (a) activity scanning

(AS), (b) event scheduling (ES) and (c) process

interaction (PI) (Pidd, 1998). The AS is particu-

larly adept at modeling construction processes in

which activities are subject to complex activation

conditions (Martinez and Ioannou, 1999). The

three-phase strategy, an enhanced AS simulation

strategy, that requires classifying activities into

two groups, is generally used in construction-ori-

ented simulation systems such as CYCLONE

(Halpin, 1976). In our study, another improved AS

simulation strategy (Zhang et al., 2002) that does

not classify activities into two groups is merged

with the fuzzy number theory to develop the fuzzy

discrete-event simulation system.

This improved AS strategy advances simulation

experimentation through checking activities’ start

conditions (the availability of required resources

or logical dependencies, i.e. completion of the

preceding activities) and updating the simulation

time from now to next time of the end event that

will happen the earliest. Before advancing or

updating the simulation time, checking start con-

ditions and initiating start events are progressed

until no activities meet the conditions at the cur-

rent simulation time. The start time of an activity

should be the latest available time of the required

resources or logical dependencies. Fig. 2 illustrates

the time advancement and event management of

this AS strategy. As shown in Fig. 2, the simula-

tion time (m Now) will be successively updated to

the four end events that are due at times m Now1

(initialized as 0), m Now2, m Now3, and m Now4.

The numbers in the circles indicate the initiation

sequence of the start and end events.

D

µ

D

m1

D

1

D

2

X

D

µ

0

1

D

D

1

D

m1

0

1

D

m2

D

2

X

1-2 1-1

D

Fig. 1. Triangular and trapezoidal fuzzy numbers.

H. Zhang et al. / European Journal of Operational Research 164 (2005) 715–729 717

In this improved AS simulation strategy, there

are three parts in which operations on times are

needed.

• Initiation of a start event or activation of an

activity, where the start time of an activity is

determined; T

S

ðiÞ ¼ max

j¼1;...;J

fT

A

ði; jÞg, where

J is the total quantity of the entities (i.e. resources

and logical dependencies) required by activity i;

T

S

ðiÞ is the start time of activity i; T

A

ði; jÞ is the

available time of entity j at activity i.

• Determination of the due time of an end event,

which should equal the start time of the cur-

rent activity plus its activity duration; T

EE

ðkÞ ¼

T

S

ðiÞ þ DðiÞ, where T

EE

ðkÞ is the due time of

end event k, recorded in the end event list;

DðiÞ is the duration of activity i.

• Simulation advancement and end event selec-

tion, that is, the simulation time is updated

from the current time to the time of next one

or more end events that will happen the earliest

and the end events that are due at the updated

simulation time will be selected for initiation;

m Now ¼ min

k¼1;...;K

fT

EE

ðkÞg, where m Now is

the simulation time and K is the number of

end events recorded in the end event list.

When fuzzy numbers are used to represent

activity durations, all the times in the above

operations become fuzzy numbers. Hence the

above operations can be expressed in fuzzy arith-

metic operations as follows:

T

S

ðiÞ ¼ max

j¼1;...;J

fT

A

ði; jÞg; i ¼ 1; . . . ; I ð2Þ

T

EE

ðkÞ ¼ T

S

ðiÞ È DðiÞ; k ¼ 1; . . . ; K; i ¼ 1; . . . ; I;

ð3Þ

m Now ¼ min

k¼1;...;K

fT

EE

ðkÞg; ð4Þ

where I is the total number of activities. The

operation (3) is a fuzzy addition. If the fuzzy

duration of activity i is ðD

1

ðiÞ; D

m1

ðiÞ; D

m2

ðiÞ;

D

2

ðiÞÞ, the fuzzy occurring time of end event k is

ðT

EE

1

ðkÞ; T

EE

m1

ðkÞ; T

EE

m2

ðkÞ; T

EE

2

ðkÞÞ, and the fuzzy

start time of activity i is ðT

S

1

ðiÞ; T

S

m1

ðiÞ; T

S

m2

ðiÞ;

T

S

2

ðiÞÞ. Therefore, the fuzzy arithmetic operation

(3) has the following form:

T

EE

1

ðkÞ; T

EE

m1

ðkÞ; T

EE

m2

ðkÞ; T

EE

2

ðkÞ

À Á

¼ T

S

1

ðiÞ

À

þ D

1

ðiÞ; T

S

m1

ðiÞ þ D

m1

ðiÞ; T

S

m2

ðiÞ

þ D

m2

ðiÞ; T

S

2

ðiÞ þ D

2

ðiÞ

Á

;

i ¼ 1; . . . ; I; k ¼ 1; . . . ; K: ð5Þ

The fuzzy operations (2) and (4) require comparing

fuzzy numbers, i.e. the fuzzy number ranking

problem. The simplest ranking method is to con-

vert fuzzy numbers into a series of crisp numbers

and then compare them (Chen, 1985; Liou and

Wang, 1992). However, this crisp-ranking method

may lose much of the information that is purposely

kept throughout fuzzy operations (Bortolan and

Degani, 1985; Yufei, 1991). Of course, the fuzzy

ranking problems are more complicated, especially

when the ranked fuzzy numbers overlap or

intersect as shown in Fig. 3. For a fuzzy discrete-

event simulation that models complex construction

operations, the fuzzy simulation time, multiple

fuzzy times of end events and many fuzzy available

times of entities may encounter such overlapping

or intersection at a certain time interval.

4. Selection of a fuzzy ranking measure

Bortolan and Degani (1985) as well as Wang

and Kere (2001a,b) presented a comprehensive

survey of the available fuzzy number ranking

methods. Almost every method, however, has its

pitfalls in some respects, such as inconsistency with

human intuition, indiscrimination and diﬃculty of

interpretation, implying the non-existence of a

Start 1 Start 2 Start 3 Start 4

End 1 End 3 End 2

m_Now 1=0 m_Now 2 m_Now 3 m_Now 4

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Simulation advancement (m_Now)

Fig. 2. Time advancement in the AS-based simulation strategy.

718 H. Zhang et al. / European Journal of Operational Research 164 (2005) 715–729

unique or best fuzzy number ranking method.

Suggested evaluation criteria (Bortolan and De-

gani, 1985; Chen and Hwang, 1992) to select a

reasonable ranking method include complexity,

robustness, ﬂexibility, transitivity, and ease of

interpretation, which are detailed as follows:

• Complexity means the amount of computation

and the diﬃculties in implementing the ranking

method.

• Robustness refers to the ability of consistent

ranking for a diversity of cases, including the

ability to compare fuzzy and crisp numbers.

• Flexibility means the ability to compare diﬀer-

ent shapes of fuzzy numbers (e.g. triangular

and trapezoidal) and allow participation of

decision makers in the process.

• Transitivity refers to the ability of giving a con-

sistent conclusion in the comparison of more

than two fuzzy numbers.

• Ease of interpretation is important to decision-

makers.

A fuzzy ranking measure (Tran and Duzkstein,

2002) possesses several advantages listed above

and can overcome problems inherent to the exist-

ing ranking methods, especially when used for

fuzzy discrete-event simulation. For instance, easy

implementation of this fuzzy ranking method en-

ables it to be integrated with the simulation algo-

rithm for discrete-event simulation. Its ability to

compare fuzzy numbers with crisp values is useful

because a discrete-event simulation generally sets

crisp initial simulation time (start point) or crisp

simulation time limit (end point). The ﬂexibility of

ranking either triangular or trapezoidal fuzzy

numbers provides more choices to describe the

fuzzy activity duration. Keeping consistent results

among more than two fuzzy numbers is also

important because multiple fuzzy times may be

simultaneously ranked during simulation. Based

on the above descriptions, the fuzzy ranking

measure (Tran and Duzkstein, 2002) is chosen to

accomplish the fuzzy time ranking in simulation

advancement for fuzzy discrete-event simulation

if triangular or trapezoidal fuzzy numbers are

used to describe uncertain activity durations.

The fuzzy ranking measure (Tran and Duzk-

stein, 2002) is built based on comparison of from

fuzzy numbers (i.e., triangular and trapezoidal

fuzzy numbers) to some predetermined targets: the

crisp maximum (Max) and the crisp minimum

(Min). The idea is that a fuzzy number is ranked

ﬁrst if its distance to the crisp maximum (D

max

) is

the smallest but its distance to the crisp minimum

(D

min

) is the greatest. Hence this fuzzy ranking

measure is also called fuzzy distance measure by

Tran and Duzkstein (2002). The Max and Min are

chosen as follows:

Min 6 inf

[

I

i¼1

sðAðiÞÞ

!

; ð6Þ

Max P sup

[

I

i¼1

sðAðiÞÞ

!

; ð7Þ

where sðAðiÞÞ is the support of fuzzy numbers AðiÞ

(i ¼ 1; . . . ; I) to be ranked. Based on the formulae

for the fuzzy ranking measure (Tran and Duzk-

stein, 2002), the formulae to compute D

max

and

D

min

for the trapezoidal fuzzy number A

(a

1

; a

2

; a

3

; a

4

) are as follows:

when the weighting function f ðaÞ ¼ a:

D

2

ðA; MÞ ¼

a

2

þ a

3

2

À M

2

þ

1

3

a

2

þ a

3

2

À M

Â ½ða

4

À a

3

Þ À ða

2

À a

1

Þ þ

2

3

a

3

À a

2

2

2

þ

1

9

a

3

À a

2

2

½ða

4

À a

3

Þ þ ða

2

À a

1

Þ

þ

1

18

½ða

4

À a

3

Þ

2

þ ða

2

À a

1

Þ

2

À

1

18

½ða

4

À a

3

Þða

2

À a

1

Þ; ð8Þ

Time 2 Time 3 Time 4 Time 5

0

Time

Time 1

1

Fig. 3. Overlapping or intersecting fuzzy numbers to be ranked.

H. Zhang et al. / European Journal of Operational Research 164 (2005) 715–729 719

when the weighting function f ðaÞ ¼ 1:

D

2

ðA; MÞ ¼

a

2

þ a

3

2

À M

2

þ

1

2

a

2

þ a

3

2

À M

Â ½ða

4

À a

3

Þ À ða

2

À a

1

Þ þ

1

3

a

3

À a

2

2

2

þ

1

6

a

3

À a

2

2

½ða

4

À a

3

Þ þ ða

2

À a

1

Þ

þ

1

9

½ða

4

À a

3

Þ

2

þ ða

2

À a

1

Þ

2

À

1

9

½ða

4

À a

3

Þða

2

À a

1

Þ; ð9Þ

where a

1

, a

2

, a

3

, and a

4

represent the four

parameters describing the trapezoidal fuzzy num-

ber A. M is either Max or Min. Hence, D

min

¼

ﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃ

D

2

ðA; MinÞ

p

and D

max

¼

ﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃ

D

2

ðA; MaxÞ

p

. f ðaÞ is a

continuous increasing function adopted in the

original formula (Tran and Duzkstein, 2002),

serving as a weighting function for computing

weighted sum of distances (Tran and Duzkstein,

2002). The f ðaÞ and a are all between 0 and 1. The

f ðaÞ is normally chosen to be equal to 1 (constant)

or a, depending on decision-makers or practitio-

ners’ preference. Generally, for risk-prone deci-

sion-makers, f ðaÞ ¼ 1 is used; for risk-averse or

risk-neutral decision-makers, f ðaÞ ¼ a is used

(Tran and Duzkstein, 2002). Because the trape-

zoidal fuzzy number Aða

1

; a

2

; a

3

; a

4

Þ can be chan-

ged to a triangular fuzzy number (i.e., Aða

1

; a

2

; a

4

Þ)

if a

2

¼ a

3

, the above formulae are applicable to

the triangular fuzzy number.

5. Fuzzy simulation advancement algorithm for

fuzzy discrete-event simulation

The selected fuzzy ranking measure is applied to

rank fuzzy times for fuzzy simulation advance-

ment and is developed into two fuzzy arithmetic

algorithms that are incorporated with the im-

proved AS simulation strategy of discrete-event

simulation.

5.1. Fuzzy-time-management algorithms based on

fuzzy ranking

No matter whether the times (e.g. start event

times, end event times, or entity available times) are

crisp or fuzzy, these times range from the simula-

tion start time (i.e. 0) to the simulation stop time

or simulation time limit (represented as m STL).

Therefore, the Min and Max in Eqs. (6) and (7)

are 0 and m STL, respectively. As a time-control

method for discrete-event simulation, it is unnec-

essary to consider decision-makers’ risk-proneness,

i.e. f ðaÞ ¼ 1. Hence, Eq. (8) for f ðaÞ ¼ a is used to

compute D

min

and D

max

for ranking the fuzzy times.

In order to comprehensively consider D

min

and

D

max

in ranking fuzzy times, two steps are adopted.

The ﬁrst step is to compute D

min

ðMin ¼ 0Þ for the

fuzzy numbers and then decide that a fuzzy num-

ber with a smaller D

min

is smaller, or a fuzzy

number with a larger D

min

is larger. When this step

fails to rank the fuzzy numbers, that is, the D

min

of

the fuzzy times are equal, the second step is used.

The D

max

ðMax ¼ m STLÞ is computed in the sec-

ond step and then decide that a fuzzy number with

a smaller D

max

is larger, or a fuzzy number with a

larger D

max

is smaller. If the D

max

of the fuzzy times

are still found to be equal, these fuzzy times are

considered to be equal.

Therefore, the determination of the fuzzy start

time of an activity, i.e. operation (2), can be

accomplished through the following steps:

Step 1: For the activity i that is satisﬁed with

start conditions (i.e. logical feasibility and

resource requirements), initialize T

max

¼

ð0; 0; 0; 0Þ.

Step 2: For each entity’s fuzzy available time,

i.e. T

A

ði; jÞ ¼ ðT

A

1

ði; jÞ; T

A

m1

ði; jÞ; T

A

m2

ði; jÞ;

T

A

2

ði; jÞÞ, compute the D

min

ðT

A

ði; jÞ; 0Þ

through Eq. (8).

Step 3: Compute the D

min

ðT

max

; 0Þ through Eq.

(8).

Step 4: If D

min

ðT

A

ði; jÞ; 0Þ > D

min

ðT

max

; 0Þ then

T

max

¼ T

A

ði; jÞ

¼ T

A

1

ði; jÞ; T

A

m1

ði; jÞ; T

A

m2

ði; jÞ; T

A

2

ði; jÞ

À Á

:

Step 5: If D

min

ðT

A

ði; jÞ; 0Þ ¼ D

min

ðT

max

; 0Þ then

compute the D

max

ðT

A

ði; jÞ; m STLÞ for each

entity’s fuzzy available time T

A

ði; jÞ

through Eq. (8).

Step 6: Compute the D

max

ðT

max

; m STLÞ through

Eq. (8).

720 H. Zhang et al. / European Journal of Operational Research 164 (2005) 715–729

Step 7: If D

max

ðT

A

ði; jÞ; m STLÞ6D

max

ðT

max

; m STLÞ

then

T

max

¼ T

A

ði; jÞ

¼ T

A

1

ði; jÞ; T

A

m1

ði; jÞ; T

A

m2

ði; jÞ; T

A

2

ði; jÞ

À Á

:

Step 8: Repeat steps 2–7 until all entities required

by activity i are scanned.

Step 9: Get the start time of activity i, that is,

T

S

ðiÞ ¼ T

max

.

On the other hand, operation (4) that deter-

mines the next time that the current simula-

tion time will advance to contain the following

steps:

Step 1: Initialize T

min

¼ ðm STL; m STL; m STL;

m STLÞ.

Step 2: Scan end event list, compute the

D

min

ðT

EE

ðkÞ; 0Þ for each event-end’s due

time, i.e.

T

EE

ðkÞ ¼ ðT

EE

1

ðkÞ; T

EE

m1

ðkÞ; T

A

m2

ðkÞ; T

A

2

ðkÞÞ;

through Eq. (8).

Step 3: Compute the D

min

ðT

min

; 0Þ through Eq.

(8).

Step 4: If D

min

ðT

EE

ðkÞ; 0Þ < D

min

ðT

min

; 0Þ then

T

min

¼ T

EE

ðkÞ

¼ ðT

EE

1

ðkÞ; T

EE

m1

ðkÞ; T

EE

m2

ðkÞ; T

EE

2

ðkÞÞ:

Step 5: If D

min

ðT

EE

ðkÞ; 0Þ ¼ D

min

ðT

min

; 0Þ then

compute the D

max

ðT

EE

ðkÞ; m STLÞ for each

entity’s fuzzy available time T

EE

ðkÞ

through Eq. (8).

Step 6: Compute the D

max

ðT

min

; m STLÞ through

Eq. (8).

Step 7: If

D

max

ðT

EE

ðkÞ; m STLÞ PD

max

ðT

min

; m STLÞ

then

T

min

¼ T

EE

ðkÞ

¼ ðT

EE

1

ðkÞ; T

EE

m1

ðkÞ; T

EE

m2

ðkÞ; T

EE

2

ðkÞÞ:

Step 8: Repeat steps 2–7 until all end events are

scanned.

Step 9: Get the next time the current simulation

time will advance to, that is, m Now ¼

T

min

.

Because a triangular fuzzy number and a crisp

variable can be respectively represented by a

trapezoidal fuzzy number, that is, ðD

1

; D

m1

; D

2

Þ ¼

ðD

1

; D

m1

; D

m1

; D

2

Þ and D

1

¼ ðD

1

; D

1

; D

1

; D

1

Þ, all the

above algorithms are applicable to the triangular

fuzzy number-described activity duration or the

crisp activity duration.

5.2. Incorporation of fuzzy time management

with the improved as simulation strategy

The above fuzzy arithmetic algorithms for

fuzzy time management based on the fuzzy

ranking measure should be incorporated with the

improved AS simulation strategy so as to advance

simulation experimentation. The occurring times

of start and end events as well as the selection of

end events should be dynamically determined

through the two fuzzy algorithms. The fuzzy

advancement algorithm of the improved AS

simulation strategy is presented in the ﬂowchart

shown in Fig. 4.

When a simulation experiment begins, the

simulation time is initialized at (0, 0, 0, 0) (i.e. a

crisp value 0) and the end event list is set to be

empty. For each fuzzy simulation time (m Now)

that has been advanced to, all end events that are

due at the current time will be activated, includ-

ing releasing involved entities (i.e. resources and

logical dependencies), which will be allocated

again. When all end events due at the current

time (m Now) are activated, the simulation time

limit (m STL) and all activities’ cycle limits will be

checked and stop the simulation experiment if

they are exceeded. After releasing and allocating

entities involved in the activities that have com-

pleted so far, all activities will be scanned to see

which are satisﬁed with start conditions. The

current simulation time will not be advanced

until no activities are satisﬁed with start condi-

tions. The simulation experiment will be ter-

minated when the simulation time limit (m STL)

is exceeded or when all activities’ cycle limits

H. Zhang et al. / European Journal of Operational Research 164 (2005) 715–729 721

are exceeded even if m STL is not exceeded.

Here an activity’s cycle limit is used to control a

repetitive activity’ operation required in a pro-

ject.

Start

Scan end event list to

select end event due

at m _ Now?

Remove the current

end event from the

event list

Advance the current

simulation time:

{ }

) (k T m _ Now = min

EE

k=1,...,K

Stop

Allocate these entities

by updating their

positions

Yes

No

Yes

No

Have end event

due at

m_Now?

No

Yes

Have activity

satisfied with start

conditions?

Initialize

simulation time,

end event list,

and others

Exceed m_STL or

all activities’ cycle

limits?

Scan Activities

•

•

Check logical dependencies

Check resource requirements

Release the involved

entities by updating

their available times:

m _ Now

j i T

A

) , ( =

Add the end event to

the end event list,

including its due time

Determine the end

event’s due time:

) ( ) ( ) ( i D i T k T

S EE

=

Update the involved

entities’ states from

‘idle’ to ‘busy’

Determine this

activity’s start time:

{ } ) , (

max

) ( j i T i T

A

j=1,...,J

S

=

Update the released

entities’ states from

‘busy’ to ‘idle’

⊕

Fig. 4. Fuzzy advancement algorithm of the improved AS simulation strategy.

722 H. Zhang et al. / European Journal of Operational Research 164 (2005) 715–729

6. Fuzzy discrete-event simulation system

The fuzzy advancement algorithm of the im-

proved AS simulation strategy is associated with

an activity-based graphical modeling interface

(Zhang et al., 2001, 2002) in order to develop a

fuzzy discrete-event simulation system for con-

struction. The activity-based graphical model is

developed on the basis of the activity-on-node

network of CPM and the activity cycle diagram

(ACD) (Hills, 1971), similar to the ‘‘Micro-Saint’’

graphical model (Catherine and Laughery, 1996).

Unlike other enhanced ACD graphical models

(e.g. CYCLONE) that require two types of activity

elements (i.e. conditional or unconditional activi-

ties) and queue element (for modeling entity’s

ﬂow), the activity-based model requires only one

type of activity elements, reﬂecting the viewpoint

of the improved AS simulation strategy that fo-

cuses on activities.

Fig. 5 is the graphical modeling interface of the

fuzzy simulation system, where an activity-based

model and an activity-associated dialog box,

including its sub-dialog boxes, are shown. The

activity name and its label are marked at the top of

the activity element; required resources are marked

at the bottom of the activity element; the number

before the colon indicates the unit the activity re-

quires for each cycle and the number after the

colon indicates the unit initially allocated to this

activity. Logical dependencies and required units

(the completion number of the preceding activities)

are marked at the centre of the activity element.

The required unit smaller than 1 means that one

cycle of the preceding activity enables the current

activity to activate multiple times; replacing the

CON and GEN functions of CYCLONE. The

activity-associated dialog box, which can be

opened by double-clicking the activity elements, is

used for deﬁning input information such as fuzzy

activity duration, required resources and logical

dependencies in modeling. The ‘‘Crisp resource

demand’’ is used and the fuzzy or ﬂexible resource

demands are beyond the scope of this paper. This

Fig. 5. Graphical modeling interface and activity-associated dialog boxes.

H. Zhang et al. / European Journal of Operational Research 164 (2005) 715–729 723

fuzzy discrete-event simulation is implemented

with Visual C++ programming language, enabling

higher execution speed and easier subsequent en-

hancements.

7. Illustrative simulation experiments

In order to highlight the strengths of the fuzzy

discrete-event simulation system, a series of simu-

lation experiments using fuzzy activity durations

and probability distribution-modeled activity

durations are carried out and their outputs are

compared.

The illustrative simulation model is for a ﬁve-

story building construction (Fig. 6). The con-

struction starts with the erection of the structural

frame of each ﬂoor, then bricking exterior and

installing drywall successively. Bricking elevator

shaft follows erecting the structural frame and can

be operated simultaneously with bricking exterior

and installing drywall. After brickwork of all

ﬂoors is ﬁnished, the elevator is installed in one

operation. Three groups of workers are initially

allocated to ‘‘Erect ﬂoor frame’’, ‘‘Brick exterior’’

and ‘‘Install drywall’’; each contains 1, 1 and 2

units respectively. ‘‘Brick exterior’’ and ‘‘Brick

elevator shaft’’ share the same group of workers

and their priorities depend on which is ﬁrst satis-

ﬁed with the logical dependencies. ‘‘Start’’ and

‘‘Stop’’ are dummy activities with zero duration

and are stipulated to operate in turn, controlling

the simulation cycle. One cycle of ‘‘Start’’ enables

‘‘Erect ﬂoor frame’’ to activate 5 times. The

symbol ‘‘&’’ at ‘‘Install elevator’’ means logical

‘‘AND’’ relationships among related logical

dependencies, that is, 5 cycles of ‘‘Brick exterior’’

and ‘‘Brick elevator shaft’’ are both necessary to

activate ‘‘Install elevator’’ once.

For simplicity of illustration, all activities ex-

cept for ‘‘Brick exterior’’ are assumed to have crisp

duration. These activity durations are tabulated

in Table 1. Activity ‘‘Brick exterior’’, which is fo-

cused in the example, is assumed to have uncertain

duration that is estimated by the fuzzy number due

to the lack of any ﬁeld sample data. Meanwhile,

probability distributions for the uncertain or sto-

chastic duration of ‘‘Brick exterior’’ are also pro-

vided. The comparisons of simulation outputs

from the fuzzy simulation and probability-based

simulation approaches are performed through two

simulation scenarios, each scenario consisting of

diﬀerent fuzzy numbers and diﬀerent probability

distribution groups.

In the ﬁrst simulation scenario, the duration of

‘‘Brick exterior’’ is estimated to be lying around 8

Table 1

Duration of some activities for both simulation scenarios

Activity Start Erect ﬂoor frame Brick elevator shaft Install drywall Install elevator Stop

Duration 0 12 4 6 10 0

Start (0)

Erect floor frame (1)

0 (1/5)

Crew1 (1:1)

Brick exterior (2)

1 (1)

Crew2 (1:1)

Install drywall (4)

2 (1)

Crew3 (1:2)

Brick elevator shaft (3)

1 (1)

Crew2 (1)

Install elevator (5)

2 (5) & 3 (5)

Stop (6)

4 (5) & 5 (1)

Fig. 6. The activity-based graphical model for the construction of a ﬁve-story building.

724 H. Zhang et al. / European Journal of Operational Research 164 (2005) 715–729

and deﬁnitely between 6 and 10. Therefore, a tri-

angular fuzzy number is used. Other probability

distributions that are found to ﬁt the estimated

activity duration include triangular, beta, normal

and lognormal distributions. The triangular fuzzy

number and the 4 probability distributions are

listed in Table 2. The related parameters of the

probability distributions are derived from the three

parameters deﬁning the triangular fuzzy number.

In the second simulation scenario, the duration

of ‘‘Brick exterior’’ is estimated to be lying in the

interval of 7–8 and deﬁnitely between 6 and 11,

which is described by a trapezoidal fuzzy number.

Similarly, four probability distributions (i.e. one

triangular, one beta, and two lognormal distribu-

tions) that are considered to be able to reﬂect the

feature of the estimated activity duration are used.

These probability distributions and the related

parameters derived from the four parameters

deﬁning the trapezoidal fuzzy number are listed in

Table 3.

Due to the internal mechanism of the fuzzy

arithmetic algorithms in the fuzzy advancement of

discrete-event simulation, only one cycle of the

simulation experiment for each scenario is suﬃ-

cient when using fuzzy activity durations. For the

probability distribution for activity durations,

however, multiple replications of the simulation

experiments are required to provide statistical

analyses of the simulation outputs and 30 cycles of

the simulation experiments for each of the total 8

(two scenarios) probability distributions are per-

formed.

When using the fuzzy activity durations, the

project duration of the building construction ob-

tained from one cycle of the simulation experiment

is also a fuzzy number. For the probability distri-

bution-based activity duration, the project dura-

tion should be presented in the statistical form of

frequency or cumulative frequency. For the sake

of comparing the simulation results from the

probability distributions with the fuzzy number,

the frequencies of the project durations are nor-

malized by dividing them with the maximum fre-

quency.

Figs. 7 and 8 show the outputs from simulation

scenarios one and two respectively, including fuzzy

number-described project durations and the nor-

malized frequency diagrams of the project dura-

tions for all 2 ·4 probability distributions. The

Table 2

Activity duration of ‘‘Brick exterior’’ for simulation scenario one

Duration type Triangular fuzzy

number

Triangular

distribution

Beta distribution Normal

distribution

Lognormal

distribution

Duration TriFuz. (6, 8, 10) Tri. (6, 8, 10) Beta (6, 10, 3, 3) Nor. (8, 2) Log. (8, 1)

Parameter explanation Minimum¼6 Minimum¼6 Minimum¼6 Mean l ¼ 8 Mean l ¼ 8

Mode ¼8 Mode ¼8 Maximum¼10 Standard variance

r ¼ 2

Standard variance

r ¼ 1

Maximum¼10 Maximum¼10 Shape a ¼ 3

Shape b ¼ 3

Table 3

Activity duration of ‘‘Brick exterior’’ for simulation scenario two

Duration type Trapezoidal fuzzy

number

Triangular

distribution

Lognormal

distribution 1

Lognormal

distribution 2

Beta distribution

Duration TraFuz. (6, 7, 8, 10) Tri. (6,7.5, 11) Log. (8, 1) Log. (7.5, 1) Beta (6, 11, 1.5, 4.5)

Parameter explanation Minimum¼6 Minimum¼6 Mean l ¼ 8 Mean l ¼ 7:5 Minimum¼6

Mode 1 ¼7 Mode ¼7.5 Standard variance

r ¼ 1

Standard variance

r ¼ 1

Maximum¼11

Mode 2 ¼8 Maximum¼11 Shape a ¼ 1:5

Maximum¼10 Shape b ¼ 4:5

H. Zhang et al. / European Journal of Operational Research 164 (2005) 715–729 725

fuzzy project duration from the ﬁrst scenario is a

triangular fuzzy number, i.e. (70, 80, 90), and the

fuzzy project duration from the second scenario is

a trapezoidal fuzzy number, i.e. (70, 75, 80, 95).

The two ﬁgures show that the statistic outputs

from all the probability distribution-based activity

durations are generally contained in the fuzzy

number-described ones from the fuzzy activity

durations. It is also shown that the statistical

simulation outputs depend on the adopted prob-

ability distributions or related parameters, which

are actually subjectively selected or determined.

Besides, the statistical simulation outputs are

inﬂuenced by the simulation cycles. On the con-

trary, the fuzzy number-described simulation out-

puts produced from the fuzzy activity duration

and the fuzzy discrete-event simulation seem to be

able to explain the uncertainties modeled by

probability distributions even if they are appro-

priately selected.

Even though only one activity’s duration is

described with a fuzzy number in the above

experiments, considering more activities’ fuzzy

durations will not lead to much more work for

simulation experimentation. Other inputs such as

simulation time (for controlling simulation termi-

nation) remain unchanged and outputs requires no

further explanation because ﬁnal project duration

0

0.2

0.4

0.6

0.8

1

70-72 72-74 74-76 76-78 78-80 80-82 82-84 84-86 86-88 88-90

Project duration

N

o

r

m

a

l

i

z

e

d

f

r

e

q

u

e

n

c

y

(

%

)

Tri. (6,8,10)

Beta (6,10,3,3)

Nor. (8,2)

Log. (8,1)

TriFuz. (6, 8, 10). (70, 80, 90)

Fig. 7. Comparison of simulation results for triangular fuzzy and distribution-based activity durations.

0

0.2

0.4

0.6

0.8

1

70-72.6 72.6-75.2 75.2-77.8 77.8-80.4 80.4-83 83-85.6 85.6-88.2 88.2-90.8 90.8-93.4 93.4-96

Project duration

N

o

r

m

a

l

i

z

e

d

f

r

e

q

u

e

n

c

y

(

%

)Tri. (6,7.5,11)

Log. (8,1)

Log. (7.5,1)

Beta (6,11,1.5,4.5)

TraFuz. (6, 7, 8, 11). (70, 80, 85, 95)

Fig. 8. Comparison of simulation results for trapezoidal fuzzy and distribution-based activity durations.

726 H. Zhang et al. / European Journal of Operational Research 164 (2005) 715–729

will remain to be a fuzzy number due to the

internal mechanism of the fuzzy arithmetic oper-

ations (e.g., fuzzy addition). Preparing parameters

(e.g., four parameters required for a trapezoidal

fuzzy number) for fuzzy numbers is easier than

deﬁning probability-distributions, especially when

no or suﬃcient sample data are available.

8. Feature summary of the of fuzzy discrete-event

simulation

From the above descriptions and a series of

simulation experiments, the features of the fuzzy

discrete-event simulation can be summarized as

follows:

• The fuzzy discrete-event simulation uses the

uncertain input information (i.e. the fuzzy activ-

ity duration) that is described by fuzzy numbers

(including triangular and trapezoidal fuzzy

numbers) instead of probability distributions.

• The fuzzy activity durations are able to reﬂect

the subjectivity, vagueness or imprecision in

duration estimation and can be relatively easily

deﬁned when insuﬃcient or no sample data are

available to deﬁne probability distributions.

• The fuzzy discrete-event simulation uses fuzzy

arithmetic operations such as fuzzy addition

and fuzzy algorithms based on the fuzzy num-

ber ranking measure, controlling fuzzy simula-

tion advancement (e.g. time advancement and

event selection) for simulation experimentation.

• The fuzzy discrete-event simulation requires

only one cycle of the simulation experiment to

generate the simulation outputs, unlike the prob-

ability distribution-based simulation that needs

multiple cycles of the simulation experiments.

• The fuzzy discrete-event simulation produces

the fuzzy simulation outputs due to the internal

mechanism of the fuzzy arithmetic operations

in the simulation advancement algorithm.

• The fuzzy simulation outputs from the fuzzy

discrete-event simulation include the statistical

information from the probability-based simula-

tion; the latter is aﬀected by distribution types,

related distribution parameters, and simulation

cycles.

It should be noticed that, however, the advan-

tages of the fuzzy discrete-event simulation can be

reﬂected only when probability-based simulation

cannot be adopted because no or suﬃcient sample

data are available to deﬁne probability distribu-

tions. In addition, because the fuzzy ranking

measure limits the fuzzy numbers to triangular or

trapezoidal fuzzy numbers, the fuzzy discrete-

event simulation based on the fuzzy ranking

measure cannot consider other kinds of fuzzy

numbers instead of triangular or trapezoidal fuzzy

numbers, which requires to be resolved in the

further research.

9. Conclusions

The applications of fuzzy set theory and a fuzzy

ranking measure to discrete-event simulation for

construction provide an alternative method to

model fuzzy activity durations through triangular

or trapezoidal fuzzy numbers. The fuzzy discrete-

event simulation can overcome the problems in

preparing probability distributions based on ﬁeld

data and can take into account some vagueness,

imprecision and subjectivity in activity duration

estimation, in particular when a construction

project is proposed for the ﬁrst time without any

former ﬁeld data collected. The features of the

fuzzy discrete-event simulation are addressed

through a series of simulation experiments and

comparisons with the simulation when probability

distributions are used. The fuzzy discrete-event

simulation is a relatively speedy simulation tool

owing to its easiness of deﬁning fuzzy numbers and

requirement of only one simulation cycle. Two

arithmetic algorithms based on the ﬂexible and

easy-to-implement fuzzy number ranking measure

are developed and integrated with the improved

AS simulation algorithm, controlling fuzzy time

advancement and event selection during simula-

tion experimentation.

The use of fuzzy number for activity duration

and the combination of fuzzy arithmetic opera-

tions with the AS strategy for fuzzy discrete-event

simulation still needs to be studied further,

including applying other kinds of fuzzy num-

bers to describe uncertain activity duration. In

H. Zhang et al. / European Journal of Operational Research 164 (2005) 715–729 727

addition, the potentials of the fuzzy discrete-event

simulation and its internal connections or diﬀer-

ence with/from the probability distribution-based

simulation approach need further exploration.

Acknowledgements

The work described in this paper was fully

supported by a grant from the Research Grants

Council of the Hong Kong Special Administration

Region, China (Project no. CityU 1015/02E).

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