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**Vol. 2, No. 4, Apr. 2007
**

389

¿~'--ا ¸-و--ا ¸~--+-ا ;هزVا ;--:-

AL-AZHAR ENGINEERING

NINTH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE

April 12 - 14, 2007

Code M34

Neural Network Applications to Buffer Allocation Problems in Automated

Transfer Lines

Mehmet Savsar

1

, Ashraf S. Youssef

2

1

College of Engineering and Petroleum, Kuwait University

2

Faculty of Engineering Fayoum University, Fayoum, Egypt

ABSTRACT

Efficiency of serial production flow lines is severely affected by equipment unreliability,

particularly if the stages of production are rigidly linked and sufficient storage spaces are not

provided. However, excessive storage space increases the initial system costs as well as work-

in-process levels while moderate storage space may not meet the production requirements.

Therefore, in the design and operation of serial production lines, determination of the amount

of storage space to be allocated to each station is particularly important. This paper presents a

procedure, which combines simulation and neural network modeling approach to determine

the optimum buffer capacities between the stages of an unreliable production flow line based

on such line parameters as operation times, expected equipment failure rates, and the repair

rates. Case problems are solved and the results are compared to previously reported

algorithms. Study results indicate that the proposed procedure could be a useful tool in

designing serial production lines with intermediate storages.

© 2007 Faculty of Engineering, Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt. All rights reserved.

KEYWORDS:-Serial Production, Flow Line, Simulation, Neural Networks,

Buffer Storages

1 INTRODUCTION

A production flow line is characterized by a series of interconnected work stations, at which

operations are performed on work pieces in order to convert the system inputs into outputs.

This type of production system design is very common in industry since the material flow is

relatively simple and production control is uncomplicated. However, line efficiency reduces

as the number of serial stations increase, since a problem in one station is directly transmitted

to the other stations. In order to improve the efficiency and productivity of such production

systems, in-process inventories are introduced as decoupling agents to balance and smooth the

flow of semi finished parts between successive production operations and to reduce the

negative effects of equipment failures or stoppages on system output. While introduction of

large buffer capacities between stages results in excessive inventories and costs, small buffer

capacities result in production losses due to unexpected stoppages and delays between the

stages of production. Therefore, one of the major problems associated with the design and

NEURAL NETWORK APPLICATIONS TO BUFFER ALLOCATION PROBLEMS IN AUTOMATED TRANSFER LINES

Vol. 2, No. 4, Apr. 2007

390

operation of serial production systems is the determination of the optimal buffer capacities

between the stages.

Over the past three decades a large amount of research has been devoted to the analysis and

modeling of production line systems. Papadopoulos and Heavey (1996) present a

comprehensive literature review of related papers. A brief review is presented here.

Production line systems can take a variety of structures depending on the operational

characteristics. Operation times can be stochastic or deterministic; stations can be reliable or

unreliable; buffer capacities can be finite or infinite; production line can be balanced or

unbalanced; and material flow can be considered as discrete or continuous. Depending on the

type of line considered and the assumptions made, complexity of the models vary. Previous

research work can be classified under four general categories: (i) Analytical models resulting

in exact closed form solutions; (ii) models with exact numerical solutions; (iii) models with

approximate closed form solutions; and (iv) simulation models combined with other

procedures, such as regression or genetic algorithms.

The objective in modeling these systems is to determine the throughput rate and machine

utilizations as a function of buffer capacities. Optimum buffer allocation results in maximum

throughput rate. However, when stations are unreliable and/or operation times are stochastic,

the problem with finite buffer capacity becomes more complex. Analytical models are

available only for limited size lines. Savsar and Biles (1984) and Buzacott and Kostelski

(1987) presented closed form solutions for two-stage unreliable lines. Gershwin and Schick

(1983) presented a closed form solution for a three-stage unreliable line. Heavey et. al. (1993)

presented exact models for multi stage lines with intermediate buffers. Hillier and So (1991)

and Hillier, et. al. (1993) investigated the effects of various factors on buffer allocation in

serial lines. Savsar and Biles (1985) and Savsar (1989) presented generalized simulation

models to determine the throughput rate and utilization of machines for unreliable serial

production flow lines with buffers. Mak (1986), Houshyar (1992), Papadopoulos and Vouros

(1997), and Vouros and Papadopoulos (1998) developed algorithms for buffer allocation on

reliable and unreliable production lines. Al-Harkan and Al-Fawzan (2001) presented an

integrated simulation-genetic algorithm for the buffer allocation problem.

Analytical models are restricted with several assumptions and closed form solutions are

obtained for relatively small lines. Simulation models are less restrictive and allow realistic

modeling. However, in case of optimum buffer allocation, numbers of possible buffer

capacity combinations are usually very large and can not be simulated. Genetic algorithms

have been used to search optimum allocation among a large number of possibilities. When the

numbers of possible combinations are large, the solution found may be far from the optimum.

This paper presents a method and an algorithm to determine optimum buffer capacities

between the stages of unbalanced and/or unreliable serial production lines. In particular, a

simulation model is developed to observe the behavior of the line under selected buffer

capacity combinations, which are chosen randomly from all possible combinations by a

systematic method. The results of simulation are used to train an artificial neural network

model to determine the production line throughput. The neural network is then be used to

evaluate all possible combinations of buffer capacities to select the best combination with

respect to line throughput. The results indicate that the procedure is capable of solving large

problems.

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391

2 Buffer Allocation Algorithm

A serial production flow line with n stations (M

1

, M

2

,….,M

n

) and n+1 buffers (B

1

,

B

2

,….,B

n+1

) is shown in figure 1. The first and the last buffers, B

1

and B

n+1

, are assumed to

have infinite capacities while intermediate buffers, B

2

, … B

n

, are with finite capacities.

B

1

M

1

B

2

……... B

n

M

n

B

n+1

Figure 1 A serial production line with n machines

Machines are assumed to have random processing times resulting in unbalances between the

stations. If a station operates at a slower pace than its neighbors, it will result in starvation of

the following station and blockage at the preceding station. Furthermore, machines are also

assumed to be unreliable with certain time to failure and time to repair distributions, failure

rates, repair rates. Buffers are used to reduce effects of unbalances due to random processing

times and the effects of equipment failures on line throughput rate. The question is how

much buffer capacity is to allocate to each station to maximize the throughput rate. The basic

structure of the proposed procedure to determine the optimum buffer capacities is shown in

figure 2.

The basic procedure starts with generation of all possible buffer combinations for the line

under consideration and maximum buffer capacity allowed. The next step is to select a set of

representative combinations to be evaluated by simulation. The third step involves with the

simulation of the line with selected buffer combinations and determination of a performance

measure, such as throughput rate. In the fourth step a neural network model is developed and

trained using the simulation results. Finally, in the fifth step optimum buffer capacity

combination is determined by evaluating all possible combinations. The number of

possibilities may be very large depending on the maximum capacity allowed and the number

of stations on the line. If the maximum buffer capacity at each station was allowed to be 9

with a maximum of 36 buffers on a 5-station line, then the total number of combinations

would be 10

4

=10,000, including a capacity of 0 at any station. This number would reach to

10

9

possible combinations for a 10-station line. If the maximum of 10 buffer capacities is

allowed at each station, as well as in all the line, total number of combinations would be

1003. The production line case example considered in this study has 5 stages with line

parameters as specified in table 1. Line structure and operation parameters were specifically

selected to be the same values as given by Vouros and Papadopoulos (1998) and Al-Harkan

and Al-Fawzan (2001). Selection of the same parameters allowed us to compare the neural

network results to their results. These values may not represent a realistic production line;

however, they are acceptable for comparison purposes. Operation times, time to failure, and

repair times were assumed to follow exponential distribution with the parameters given in

table 1 for all stations.

NEURAL NETWORK APPLICATIONS TO BUFFER ALLOCATION PROBLEMS IN AUTOMATED TRANSFER LINES

Vol. 2, No. 4, Apr. 2007

392

I. Generation of all possible buffer allocation

combinations within the specified capacity limits.

II. Random selection of certain buffer allocations

which represent all possible combinations.

III. Development of a simulation model and

simulation of selected buffer allocations.

IV. Development of a neural network model;

training, and testing with simulation results.

V. Determination of best buffer allocations among

all possible combinations using NN model

Figure 2 Optimum buffer allocation procedure

Station No. i n Operation Time (α

i

) n Failure Rate (λ

i

) n Repair Rate (μ

i

)

1 1.0 0.10 0.50

2 1.0 0.20 0.50

3 1.0 0.25 0.50

4 1.0 0.30 0.50

5 1.0 0.35 0.50

Table 1 Production line parameters selected for analysis

3 Buffer Combinations And The Simulation Model

As mentioned in the previous section, the first step in determining optimum buffer allocation

is to determine all possible combinations to be evaluated with respect to production line

performance measure, which is line throughput rate in our case. If maximum buffer capacity

allowed at each station is m and there are n buffers on a line with n+1 stations, then the total

possibilities would be (m+1)

n

. For example, for n=2 buffers (in a 3-station line) and m=3

maximum buffer capacity allowed at each station, there would be 4

2

=16 combinations as

follows: (0,0), (0,1), (0,2), (0,3), (1,0), (1,1), (1,2), (1,3), (2,0), (2,1), (2,2), (2,3), (3,0), (3,1),

(3,2), (3,3), where the numbers in parenthesis are buffer capacities for the first and the

second buffers respectively. Generation of these combinations is straightforward. However,

if the maximum capacity on the line is the same as the maximum at each station, generation

of possibilities is not so straightforward. In the above example, if the total capacity allowed

on the line is also 3, then the possible combinations would be (0,0), (0,1), (0,2), (0,3), (1,0),

NEURAL NETWORK APPLICATIONS TO BUFFER ALLOCATION PROBLEMS IN AUTOMATED TRANSFER LINES

Vol. 2, No. 4, Apr. 2007

393

(1,1), (1,2), (2,0), (2,1), (3,0), a total of 10, excluding the combinations in which the total

exceeds 3. A computer code was developed in VISUAL BASIC to generate all buffer

capacity combinations for a given line with maximum capacity restriction and store them in

MS ACCESS to be used by the NN.

One could attempt to simulate all the possibilities and determine the best combination, which

maximizes line throughput rate. However, when number of stations and the maximum buffer

capacity allowed at each station is increased, the number of possibilities also increases

exponentially. Evaluation of all possibilities by simulation to determine the optimum

becomes very difficult and impractical. Thus, optimum is searched by the generalized model

procedure proposed in this study. A representative set of buffer combinations is selected

from all possibilities, which are used to train and validate a neural network to be utilized to

search the optimum.

In our preliminary study, we have selected a 5-station line and investigated the effects of

allowing different maximum buffer capacities at each station as well as at the complete line.

We considered maximum buffers of 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 units, which resulted in various total

numbers of combinations ranging from 210 to 1001. About 15% of maximum combinations

(150) were selected to train and test a neural network for the case of maximum 10 buffers.

The other cases were subset of this case. In order to determine the performance measure for

the selected buffer combinations, a simulation model was developed using SIMAN language

(Pegden, 1995) and the selected 150 combinations were simulated to determine line

throughput rate. These results were used to train the neural network model. The simulation

model was also used to simulate another set of 15 combinations for each case, which were

never seen by the neural network. These results were used to check the validity and accuracy

of the neural network model.

4 Neural Network Model And The Results

Neural network (NN) model was based on Neuro Shell 2 (1998). Throughput rate of 150

patterns (about 15% of the total possibilities), which were determined by simulation, and the

related combinations were used to train and test the NN model. Thus, the input for the neural

network was 4 buffer combinations representing four nodes at the input layer, while the

output was the line throughput rate, representing one node at the output layer. Of the total

150 patterns, 105 patterns were used to train the NN model and 45 patterns (30% of the

selected combinations) were used to test the NN model. Ward net supervised architecture and

general regression net was used as a predictive model. For training criteria, random pattern

selection with a learning rate of 0.01 is found to be suited since we had randomness in our

data. Average error allowed was 0.002. Table 2 summarizes the final neural network model

architecture with related definitions. NN models with 1, 2, and 3 hidden layers were

experimented and the model with 2 hidden layers with seven nodes at each was found to be

the best model. The trend in error reduction is shown in figure 3 and figure 4. It took about

20,000 iterations to reach to the specified error level.

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Vol. 2, No. 4, Apr. 2007

394

Architecture: Computation/Termination Criteria:

Ward net, supervised Random pattern Selection

1 Input Layer with 4 nodes Learning Rate: 0.1

2 Hidden Layers; 7 nodes each Average error: 0.002

1 Output Layer with 1 node

Table 2 Neural Network Model Definition

Figure 3 Error reduction trend in NN training set

Figure 4 Error reduction trend in NN test set

As it was mentioned in section 2, production line parameters were selected similar to those

reported by Vouros and Papadopoulos (1998) and Al-Harkan and Al-Fawzan (2001) for

comparison purposes. In addition to the cases previously studied, we have considered and

studied a production line without failures (a reliable production line with the same variable

processing times as given in table 1) and also a line with relatively shorter mean repair times

of 0.5 time units (repair rate of µ=2.0) instead of mean repair time of 2 time units (repair rate

of µ=0.5) as given in table 1, with all the other parameters being the same as before. We

presented these two additional cases since we feel that the selected failure and repair

parameters may not represent realistic production line operation. Table 3 shows the partial

NEURAL NETWORK APPLICATIONS TO BUFFER ALLOCATION PROBLEMS IN AUTOMATED TRANSFER LINES

Vol. 2, No. 4, Apr. 2007

395

list of buffer combinations simulated and utilized to train and test the neural network for the

case example presented in table 1. Buffer combinations are selected randomly from all

possibilities, with the condition that all the ranges are covered. Specifically, 30 combinations

were selected from each of the total buffer capacity ranges of 0-2; 3-4; 5-6; 7-8; and 9-10.

The last two columns in table 3 compare the throughput rates from simulation and the trained

NN model.

Combination

No.

B

2

B

3

B

4

B

5

Simulation

Results

NN

Results

1 0 0 0 1 11 11

2 0 0 1 1 36 34

3 0 0 7 3 27 34

4 1 1 4 2 59 63

5 0 1 1 4 45 50

6 1 1 2 4 60 61

7 1 2 4 1 52 54

8 2 2 2 2 68 63

9 3 2 1 2 54 50

10 3 1 3 2 62 61

11 2 4 2 1 54 53

12 3 2 1 3 54 57

13 1 3 4 2 69 72

14 6 1 1 2 59 54

15 4 2 2 2 61 66

. 1 4 4 1 52 52

. 5 1 1 2 50 51

149 1 1 1 7 57 60

150 4 1 1 4 51 57

Table 3 Partial List of buffer combinations simulated and used to train the NN

These results are also plotted in figure 5, which compares the NN model results to simulation

results. Table 4 shows the statistical results for the trained NN model. Correlation coefficient

is 96.03% between the simulation and the NN model outputs. About 10% of the results

exceeded 20% error. Figure 6 shows the scatter graph correlating NN and simulation results.

A high correlation is seen from the figure.

In order to check the validity of the NN model, 20 buffer combination cases, which were

never seen by the NN model, were selected and the performance measures were determined

by simulation as well as by the NN model. The results are compared in table 5 and shown in

figure 7. The NN model deviations from simulation results are measured by the mean

absolute error (MAE), percent mean absolute error (%MAE), root mean square error

(RMSE) and percent root mean square error (%RMSE) as given in the last row of table 5.

MAE was 3.17 while RMSE was 3.64. % mean absolute error and mean absolute error

squared were 7.80% and 9.58% respectively.

NEURAL NETWORK APPLICATIONS TO BUFFER ALLOCATION PROBLEMS IN AUTOMATED TRANSFER LINES

Vol. 2, No. 4, Apr. 2007

396

Comapring Simulation and Neural Network Results

0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

1 11 21 31 41 51 61 71 81 91 101 111 121 131 141

Selected Buffer Combinations

L

i

n

e

T

h

r

o

u

g

h

p

u

t

R

a

t

e

Simulation NN

Figure 5 Comparison of Simulation and NN Results for Selected Combinations.

R Squared: 0.9323 Mean Squared Error: 18.63

Mean Absolute Error: 3.330 Min. Absolute Error: 0.0020

Max. Absolute Error: 17.106 Correlation Coefficient r: 0.9608

Percent Over 20% Error:10% Learning Rate: 0.0010

Table 4 Statistical Results for the NN Model

Figure 6 Correlation between simulation and the NN results

These deviations may seem to be somewhat higher than expected. However, this was due to

very high randomness in the selected system parameters, such as random processing times,

highly random time to failures, and highly random repair times. When the experiments were

carried out with a reliable system without failures, the deviation of NN model results from

simulation results were convincingly low, in the order of 1.51% for the percent MSE and

1.71% for the percent RMSE. All the results for the reliable system could not be reproduced

NEURAL NETWORK APPLICATIONS TO BUFFER ALLOCATION PROBLEMS IN AUTOMATED TRANSFER LINES

Vol. 2, No. 4, Apr. 2007

397

here due to space limitations. Results of the case compared to the previous studies have only

been presented in table 5.

Combination

Number

Throughput

Simul. NN

Abs.

Error

(%) Abs.

Error

Abs. Error

Squared

(%)Abs. Err.

Squared

1 48 51 3 6.25 9 39.0

2 55 59 4 7.27 16 52.8

3 58 59 1 1.72 1 2.9

4 67 68 1 1.49 1 2.2

5 46 48 2 4.35 4 18.9

6 44 41 3 6.82 9 46.4

7 60 53 7 11.67 49 136.1

8 66 65 1 1.52 1 2.3

9 60 53 7 11.67 49 136.1

10 52 56 4 7.69 16 59.1

11 56 53 3 5.36 9 28.7

12 43 46 3 6.98 9 48.6

13 51 47 4 7.84 16 61.5

14 54 59 5 9.26 25 85.7

15 66 64 2 3.03 4 9.1

16 20 24 4 20.00 16 400.0

17 19 18 1 5.26 1 27.7

18 9 11 2 22.22 4 493.5

Average

48.56 48.61

MAE:

3.17

MAE%:

7.80%

MSE: 13.28

RMSE: 3.64

% MSE: 91.75

RMSE: 9.58%

Table 5 Comparison of simulation and NN with buffer combinations not seen by NN

0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Combination Number

L

i

n

e

T

h

r

o

u

g

h

p

u

t

R

a

t

e

Simulation NN

Figure 7 Comparison of simulation and NN results with 16 runs never seen by NN

The trained NN model was utilized to determine the optimum buffer combinations for each

case considered. These results are presented in table 6. Maximum buffer capacities selected

were 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. It was not necessary to go below 6 buffers, since the number of

combinations would be very small, which makes it possible to determine the optimum

combination by analytical modeling or simulation. It is unnecessary to consider another

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398

procedure which builds on simulation results. Number of buffer combinations for each

maximum buffer capacity is shown in the second column of table 6. For each case, optimum

buffer combination is determined by running all possible combinations through the NN

model and determining the combination that resulted in maximum throughput rate. In

addition to unreliable production line cases, the optimum buffer combinations are also given

for the reliable production line case. In all three cases, production line parameters are as

given in table 1, with the exception that reliable line had no failures and the two unreliable

lines differed with respect to failure rates as indicated in table 6. One expected result that can

be seen from the table is that all optimum combinations occurred at maximum total buffer

capacities allowed. For example, if the maximum total buffer capacity allowed at the line is

9, optimum buffer combination also occurs at a total of 9 buffers, such as 2-2-2-3 for the

reliable line, and 0-5-0-4 and 0-4-3-2 for the two unreliable lines. Similarly, optimum

combinations for other maximum buffer cases also occurred at the respective maximum

values.

As it is seen from table 6, while optimum buffer combinations exhibit a bowl phenomena

(more buffers assigned to the middle stages) in some cases, zero buffers have been allocated

to the first stage in almost all the cases of unreliable lines, mainly because of a smaller failure

rate (0.10) for the first stage compared to the other stages. Even though the last stage had the

largest failure rate (0.35), the largest number of buffers has not been assigned to it in many

cases. While a relatively uniform buffer allocation is observed in the case of reliable cell, it is

difficult to indicate a good trend for the unreliable lines.

Optimum Buffer Combinations and Production Rates Maximum

Buffers

Number of

Possible

Combinations

Case1:

Reliable Line

Case 2: µ=2.0

Unreliable Line

Case 3: µ=0.5

Unreliable Line

6 210 1-2-2-1 315 0-3-3-0 243 0-2-2-2 59

7 330 2-2-2-1 321 0-3-4-0 263 0-3-2-2 66

8 495 2-2-2-2 332 0-4-0-4 276 0-3-3-2 70

9 715 2-2-2-3 338 0-5-0-4 288 0-3-4-2 72

10 1001 2-2-3-3 342 1-4-2-3 288 1-3-4-2 76

Table 6 Comparisons of various cases with respect to optimum buffer combinations

Finally, the optimum results found by the NN model for case 3 are compared to the optimum

allocations reported by Vouros and Papadopoulos (1998) and genetic algorithm allocations

reported by Al-Harkan and Al-Fawzan (2001). These comparisons are presented in table 7.

The NN model results were similar to genetic algorithm results and close to the optimum

results. Also the deviations of throughput values from the optimum throughput were not

significant, with an average deviation of 5%. The usefulness of the NN modeling approach

can be clear when one considers a longer production line with more buffer capacities. For

example, when a line with 7 stations and a maximum of 15 buffers is considered, total

number of combinations reach to 65,000 to be evaluated to find the optimum. The optimum

solution for longer production lines can not be found analytically. It is also extremely

difficult to simulate a large number of buffer combinations resulting from longer lines.

However, a trained NN model can find a near optimum or a satisfactory solution in seconds.

When the NN model is trained with, for example 15 buffers and 7 stations, it can be used for

any buffer combinations that are contained within maximum of 15 for the same number of

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stations. The authors are currently experimenting with longer lines and larger buffer

capacities to further evaluate the usefulness of the NN model.

Maximum

Buffer

Capacity

Optimum

Buffer

Allocation

Genetic

Algorithm

Allocation

Neural

Network

Allocation

Throughput

Deviation (%)

from Optimum

6 0-2-2-2 0-2-2-2 0-2-2-2 0.0%

7 1-2-2-2 0-3-2-2 0-3-2-2 10.1%

8 1-2-3-2 0-2-3-3 0-3-3-2 0.8%

9 1-2-3-3 0-3-4-2 0-3-4-2 9.3%

10 1-3-3-3 1-3-3-3 1-4-3-2 5.1%

Table 7 Comparison of NN allocations to other algorithms

5 CONCLUSION

A generalized simulation-neural network modeling procedure has been presented for

optimum buffer allocation in the design and operation of serial production flow lines. Several

case problems with different buffer capacities are evaluated using the proposed procedure for

both reliable and the unreliable production lines. Main focus and the presentation of results

were on the unreliable lines in order to be able compare the results to some previously

reported results. In case of a 5-station line with maximum allowed buffer capacities of 6, 7,

8, 9, and 10 units, the NN model compared well with optimum allocations and the Genetic

Algorithm results with respect to throughput and the best allocations achieved. Throughput

deviations from the optimum were about 5% when compared to the optimum allocations

reported.

The usefulness of the NN model would be in analyzing longer lines and larger buffer

capacities, since such cases can not be solved optimally and reasonably good solutions would

be acceptable. The procedure and the results outlined in this research can be extended to

obtain a generalized algorithm such that any type of line with any maximum buffer capacity

can be studied for optimum allocations.

6 REFERENCES

1. Al-Harkan, I. M. and Al-Fawzan, M. A. (2001), “An Integrated Simulation-Genetic

Algorithm Model for Buffer Allocation in Unreliable Production Lines”, 1

st

Int.

Industrial Engineering Conference, Amman, Jordan, Sept. 23-27, 397-405.

2. Buzacott, J. A. and Kostelski, D. (1987), “Matrix- Geometric and Recursive

Algorithm Solution of a Two-Stage Unreliable Flow Line”, AIIE Transactions, 19(4)

429-438.

3. Gershwin, S. B. and Schick, I. C. (1983), “Modeling and Analysis of Three Stage

Transfer Lines with Unreliable Machines and Finite Buffers”, Operations Research,

31(2) 354-379.

4. Heavey, C., Papadopoulos, H. D., and Browne, J. (1993), “The Throughput Rate of

Multistation Unreliable Production Lines”, European Journal of Operational Research,

(68) 69-89.

5. Hillier, F.S. and So, K. C. (1991), “The Effect of the Coefficient of Variation of

Operation Times on the Allocation of Storage Space in Production Line System”, IIE

Transactions, (23) 198-206.

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