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Special Issue Article

Advances in Mechanical Engineering

2017, Vol. 9(2) 1–16
Ó The Author(s) 2017
Development of a collaborative DOI: 10.1177/1687814017691437
material management system for
offshore platform projects using agent

Duanfeng Han, Qinghua Zhou, Jinghua Li, Jiaxuan Wang, Boxin Yang and
Miaomiao Sun

Accuracy management of production materials plays an important role in offshore platform projects. To improve both
the efficiency and accuracy of material management in offshore platform projects, a novel material management system
characterized by the notion of a material information unit was proposed in light of a review of the industrial Internet of
Things and multi-agent technology. The material information unit is used to carry data on production materials and serve
as a basic information unit in the system. Furthermore, agents of different functions are employed to tackle assorted
tasks. Using this system, material information can be precisely recorded, tracked, and traced during the manufacture of
offshore platforms. In addition to this system, an algorithm targeting at multi-agent negotiation is designed. Finally, a pro-
totype system is developed to verify the feasibility and efficiency of this material management process.

Offshore platform project, material management, material information unit, multi-agent system, agent collaboration

Date received: 31 August 2016; accepted: 10 January 2017

Academic Editor: Murat Uzam

Introduction Since the 1990s, information technology has been

applied to the control of production materials using dif-
As the ocean resources such as marine oil and gas have ferent methods to achieve higher production efficiency
been explored, these years have witnessed the sharp and more accurate material management in the OPP
demand for offshore engineering structures such as off- manufacturing process. With the development of the
shore platforms and pipe ships, and it is expected to Internet of Things (IoT) and its supporting technology,
continue to grow. An offshore platform project (OPP) material information management that applies to every
usually includes the processes of shipbuilding and the single object has been technically feasible since 2010,3
installation of offshore equipment,1,2 which differs but it needs to be equipped with an enterprise data sys-
from traditional shipbuilding processes. Furthermore, tem that has strong information processing capability.
the manufacturing process used in OPPs involves more
outsourcing of tasks, mechanical components, and
equipment operation. Nowadays in China, most marine Harbin Engineering University, Harbin, China
structures are manufactured by shipyards whose man-
Corresponding author:
agement methods are undeveloped, leading to numer-
Jinghua Li, Harbin Engineering University, Chuanhai Building, 145 Nantong
ous problems in material management such as waste Street, Nangang District, Harbin 150001, Heilongjiang, China.
and additional costs. Email:

Creative Commons CC-BY: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without
further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
2 Advances in Mechanical Engineering

However, in China, information management is not

sufficiently developed for large-scale projects. So far,
no material information management or material qual-
ity tracing system has been applied to OPPs. In accor-
dance with the manufacturing features of OPPs, the
organizational structures of production enterprises are
relatively independent, but work in close collaboration. Figure 1. Material information tracing and tracking during the
This is similar to the multi-agent system (MAS) model, manufacturing process.
and thus, the application of MAS technology is pre-
sumed to be compatible with the existing digital man-
agement systems. material record tracking and the other is material infor-
Considering the above observations, an agent-based mation tracing. The relationship between OPP material
offshore platform project material management system management and the manufacturing process is shown
(OPPMMS) is presented. The OPPMMS is an intra- in Figure 1.
enterprise system in view of the enterprise production Tracking and tracing are two fundamental aspects of
network of an advanced offshore platform manufactur- material information management.4 The tracking pro-
ing enterprise. The management cycle in the OPPMMS cess has the same flow direction as the production pro-
extends from the purchase that has arrived at factory to cess, during which material transformation data are
the completion of product delivery. The management recorded in real time from raw material usage to the
functions for OPPMMS are to collect and process the composition of the finished product. On the contrary,
massive amount of material information acquired by the tracing process flows in the opposite direction and
the IoT during the complex OPP production process, displays historical data relating to material transforma-
which facilitates the further refinement of quality and tion, starting from the end products and/or by-products
process management. and working back to the raw materials used. Currently,
The rest of this article is organized as follows. Section material tracing and tracking management are attract-
‘‘Literature review’’ outlines some related work regard- ing considerable attention in various industrial sectors.
ing OPP material information management, agent tech- A standardized data format that can reflect the stability
nology, and the industrial IoT in view of the literature of the information system is urgently needed.
reviews. Section ‘‘Information processing mechanism in When it comes to files recording material informa-
the OPPMMS’’ establishes the information processing tion management, modern processors generally view
mechanism for the OPPMMS by defining the notion of the bill of materials (BOMs)5 as an important means of
the material information unit (MIU) and the model that tracking the production process. As a kind of static
is built on it. Section ‘‘OPPMMS architecture’’ mainly document regarding the production process in an enter-
discusses the OPPMMS architecture, including the func- prise resource planning (ERP) system, the BOM defines
tional definition and internal structure of the individual the OPP product structure, constituent parts, and
agent. Section ‘‘OPPMMS working mechanism’’ focuses installation order. The BOM can be used to either
on working mechanisms that handle a lot of materials retrieve the assembly relationship among materials or
and complicated processes involved in OPP manufactur- define the attributes of materials. However, material
ing processes and a large volume of MIU data generated management in an ERP system focuses on logistics and
at different locations on the enterprise IoT. Section cost management, the main function of which is to
‘‘OPPMMS validation’’ validates the effectiveness of record the quantity of materials used in the production
MIU and related management methods and the feasibil- process. Furthermore, OPP manufacturing is such a
ity of system using examples of MIU data processing dynamic and complex process6 that the process of mate-
and a prototype system performance. rial information recording and management in original
OPP-ERP system which uses BOM alone is insufficient
Literature review to meet the requirements of management regarding
material information traceability and trackability.
The existing studies can be categorized into three Therefore, more items are needed to provide the infor-
domains, namely, OPP material information manage- mation that is required. Apart from the buying bill of
ment, agent technology, and the industrial IoT. This material (B-BOM) and cost bill of material (C-BOM) in
section provides a brief review of several influential the original ERP system, the OPP enterprise production
studies in these domains. management process has developed a wide range of
BOM forms,7 such as the engineering bill of material
Material information management (E-BOM) from the product data management (PDM)
Material information management, as part of the man- system, the process bill of material (P-BOM) from the
ufacturing process, operates in two directions. One is computer-aided process planning (CAPP) system, and
Han et al. 3

the manufacturing bill of material (M-BOM) from the of bulk and varied tasks. Indeed, combined with the
computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) system to MAS, the mobile agent is generally utilized to develop
achieve a more detailed record of system data. These intelligence production data systems, such as data ware-
additional types of BOM use different data processing housing,31 sensor networks,32,33 and production data
methods and formats for the same materials in the pro- collection.34 Thus, mobile agent technology is capable
cess of assembly, production, and logistics, and frag- of being applied to management processes dealing with
mented data sources, which adds an additional data a huge amount of OPP material information collected
conversion process for material information retrieval by sensors.
and restricts the effectiveness and efficiency of material
information tracking and tracing. Therefore, a unified
and standardized information unit that enables suffi- Industrial IoT
cient accuracy in terms of the trackability and traceabil- To obtain accurate material information, it is necessary
ity of production materials to meet information to implement an industrial IoT.35 This achieves direct
management requirements is required. In relation to communication between the materials and the enter-
material information management during OPP manu- prise’s network. Using such a network, material infor-
facturing, Li and Liu7 designed a new material manage- mation and the associated instructions can be traced
ment file called the bill of lots (BOL), which combines over time. An important element of the IoT is identifi-
diverse aspects of information with the BOM, and then cation tag technology.36 Tags are attached to the mate-
proposed the concept of a traceable entity unit (TEU) rial entity and data are transited directly through the
for material information management. However, the IoT, enabling the information to be processed more
detailed design and application of the TEU were not smoothly and accurately. Thanks to the development
presented. Even though the composition of material of identification tags and wireless technology, a series
codes and its relationship with manufacturing have of tags such as radio frequency identification
been widely researched8,9 in shipbuilding projects, tra- (RFID)37–40 and quick response (QR) codes40,41 have
ceability properties have not yet been considered. In been used in large-scale manufacturing processes dur-
this regard, the material coding system that is used in ing the last few decades. Due to the generic RFID,
the petrochemical industry10 is of great reference value. Kang and Lee42 proposed and developed a novel set of
traceability services for manufacturing management.
Agent technology Velandia et al.43 used RFID to trace and track material
information for the production of camshafts.
As a new branch of artificial intelligence, agent
Chongwatpol and Sharda44 presented an RFID-based
technology11 has been studied since the 1970s. The
traceability approach to improve production schedul-
MAS,12 a form of distributed artificial intelligence, has
ing performance.
been studied and applied in various areas. In the
IoT information tags need to be pasted or etched
domain of large-scale engineering, applications aided
onto the material surface. For the large steel structures
by the MAS have been developed for quality manage-
in OPPs, surface tags will be more likely to abrade or be
ment,13,14 product design,15,16 task scheduling and
lost during the manufacturing process. Moreover, steel
planning,17–19 supply chain systems,20,21 and workflow
structures possess a strong magnetic field, which is not
systems.22–24 There is a scarcity of research on the
conducive to the accurate transmission of RFID infor-
application of MAS technology to the development of
mation. As a result, the reading and writing of IoT tags
product manufacturing systems, such as manufacturing
are more likely to be wrong or become lost, therefore
resource management,25,26 control of manufacturing
the data recording system of the IoT should be avail-
systems,27 manufacturing task assignments,28 and man-
able for data analysis.
ufacturing system integration.29 The distribution and
collaboration features of the MAS make it suitable for
assisting complex multi-sector manufacturing systems. Discussion
In this sense, the majority of the existing system mod-
ules can be simulated by the agent or at least connected The following conclusions can be drawn after analyzing
with the MAS by the data interface agent (IA) to the situation regarding OPP material management:
improve OPP material management performance.
Mobile agent technology is another effective way to 1. Although the TEU was proposed to facilitate
complete distributed tasks and has attracted extensive material management during the OPP manufac-
interest.30 In agent-based systems, a mobile agent has turing process, it is only a conceptual model,
the capability of working regardless of the agent run- lacking coding rules and content specifications,
time environment deployed in enterprise nodes. From which is far from satisfactory for efficient OPP
this viewpoint, it seems ideally suited to the execution material information management.
4 Advances in Mechanical Engineering

2. The existing material management systems for material management process. Then, using industrial
OPPs do not support management of single- IoT tags and agent technology, an agent-based proto-
material records and the traceability and track- type framework is set up for OPP enterprises to manage
ability of all material data. These insufficiencies material information. In the following sections, we ela-
are magnified when a large amount of material borate on the standard MIU design for material man-
data need to be managed in OPP manufactur- agement, an analysis model and algorithm based on the
ing. Furthermore, information that is merely MIU, agent framework construction, and the agent
identified by a material tag without analysis is cooperation mechanism.
prone to data errors. Therefore, these systems
are not suitable for material information man-
agement for OPPs. Information processing mechanism in the
3. To effectively manage material data during the OPPMMS
construction of OPPs, it is necessary to connect
the material entity with the industrial IoT. In
spite of the fact that IoT tags enable communi- Standardization of information files should make mate-
cation with the material entity, the extremely rial management more efficient. In this section, the
harsh manufacturing conditions encountered in MIU is defined as a standard of the OPPMMS and an
constructing OPPs make it easy to lose tag analysis model is then developed.
Structure of the MIU. In accordance with the BOL7 and
In response to the above analysis, this article pre-
the summary of the characteristics of material informa-
sents the following technical solution:
tion in the production process, the material information
1. Define the MIU. The MIU serves as the base unit to be included in the MIU for the OPP manufacturing
for the proposed system and is used to handle process is as follows: (1) material identification infor-
material information. In this article, the MIU is mation, (2) material logistics information, (3) material
defined for material management, and a reason- processing information, (4) material assembly informa-
able MIU data format is designed, ensuring that tion, and (5) other correlated and remark information.
the requirements for traceability and trackability Figure 2 shows the information that should be carried
of material management are satisfied. by the MIU.
2. Design the MIU analysis function for material According to the above analysis, material informa-
information management. Given the characteris- tion obtained during the OPP manufacturing process
tics of OPPs and the nature of the MIU, an can be divided into two parts: material attribute
MIU analytical model is presented for material information and material correlation information.
information management. Mobile agents that Thus, two categories of MIU are designed, namely,
are to be adopted in the OPPMMS are used to attribute-material information unit (a-MIU) and
rectify the MIU in a timely manner so as to correlation-material information unit (c-MIU). The
minimize the negative influences of poor pro- former represents the corresponding material attribute
duction conditions. The analysis function is
therefore proposed after considering features of
the MIU model and agent technology.
3. Develop an OPPMMS framework based on
agent technology. As a branch of computational
intelligence, the agent-based system has the
capacity to perform multiple distributed and
parallel tasks. Therefore, developing an agent-
based prototype of the OPPMMS framework is
believed to be advantageous. The capability to
process huge amounts of data will be improved,
and the ability to collect and analyze informa-
tion will be enhanced. In addition, other systems
and approaches are able to connect with the
OPPMMS framework through data-compatible
In this study, a standard data format for MIU is
designed after analyzing the requirements of the OPP Figure 2. Material information carried by the MIU.
Han et al. 5

information, while the latter represents the correlation c-MIU. Correlation refers to relationships between the
information. This arrangement enables the OPPMMS materials and its production activities. During the pro-
system to meet the traceability and trackability duction process, the materials are processed into fin-
demands of material information management systems. ished products through a series of processing steps. In
The MIU is formatted with data codes for use by each step, the materials are correlated with processing
OPP manufacturers. The MIU encoding rules consist of information. The c-MIU consists of material produc-
sequential a-MIU and c-MIU sub-rules, each of which tion, logistics, and other aspects that involve opera-
has a corresponding data code fragment. These encod- tional records for the materials. This c-MIU
ing rules are aligned with enterprise characteristics and information is acquired in a timely manner through
actual production requirements. The encoding rules of IoT sensors and formalized using specific rules. Thus,
a-MIU and c-MIU are discussed in the next section. the material’s status can be obtained and recorded. In
this sense, precise operational information relating to
materials recorded by the MIU in the various produc-
a-MIU. The a-MIU contains unique descriptions to tion stages can be retrieved. An example of an MIU
enable different materials to be distinguished in the explaining the encoding rules in relation to both
OPPMMS and is derived from a modification of assem- a-MIU and c-MIU is designed in Figure 4.
bly BOM information, reflecting the assembly structure The MIU is encoded with two code fragments. In
of a certain offshore platform. In fact, different materi- this way, the corresponding material records can be
als vary in terms of assembly levels in OPP manufactur- obtained accurately through the MIU encoding
ing processes. For example, raw materials, work in method, which achieves the traceability and trackabil-
progress (WIP) products, and finished products are ity necessary for material information management.
typically located in three separate assembly levels. The
layered encoding structure in the OPP assembly process MIU data model. From the above analysis, the MIU data
and the a-MIU encoding rules are separately exhibited model illustrating the relationship between a-MIU and
in Figures 3 and 4, respectively. c-MIU can be demonstrated via a tree structure. The
In the a-MIU code, the material assembly level is MIU data model is demonstrated in Figure 5.
defined by the material assembly sequence within the Three components are selected to illustrate this
BOM. Moreover, the material sequence number speci- model, and their a-MIUs are designated as F1, F2, and
fies the unique material in this level. To avoid duplicat- E1. In Figure 5(a), the assembly process of F1 and F2
ing material codes in different projects or different into E1 and the relationships between the transporta-
structures, the upper level assembly code and project tion and warehousing processes are recorded.
code need to be listed for each material, which ensures Correspondingly, the MIU including the middle part of
a unique a-MIU code and satisfies the identity coding the encoding rules and both sides of F1, F2, and E1 is
demands. Compared with identity coding using other manifested in Figure 5(b). In particular, the abbre-
encoding rules, this has the advantage that the assem- viated form of the c-MIU is expressed in brackets. The
bly sequence of the product is encoded by the a-MIU, a-MIU and c-MIU are stored in the form shown in
and on this basis, a related data management function Figure 5(c). Furthermore, Figure 5(d) demonstrates the
can be developed. data model after considering the relationship between
the a-MIU and c-MIU.
The encoding rules and data model used for the
MIU provide a data standard for processing the huge
amount of data emerging from the Intranets of OPP
enterprises. The production structure information and
construction procedure information in the BOM are
able to correspond effectively through the MIU, which
not only enables bidirectional searching but also pro-
vides fundamental knowledge for material information

Analysis based on the MIU

MIU-relevant model. The relevant model using both a-
MIU and c-MIU represents the relationship between
OPP production and the materials used. In fact, it
reflects the relationship between OPP construction data
Figure 3. OPP assembly levels. from the industrial IoT and BOM assembly
6 Advances in Mechanical Engineering

Figure 4. Encoding rules for a-MIU and c-MIU.

Figure 5. MIU data model: (a) original material information, (b) material information unit (MIU), (c) MIU data storage format, and
(d) data model of MIU.

documentation from the CAM system. If we set the rel- manufacturing process, the values of u are defined in
evant factor u for a pair of c-MIU and a-MIU, the three distinct situations as follows:
MIU-relevant model will be created in the form of a
matrix, as illustrated in Figure 6. 1. u = 0 denotes that the corresponding materials
Figure 6(a) manifests the data model of the MIU, c-MIU and a-MIU are not relevant. For
which illustrates the correspondence between a-MIU instance, in Figure 6(b), line 1, column 3,
and c-MIU. Figure 6(b) exhibits the value of relevant c-MIU(W1) is not relevant to a-MIU(F2), thus
factor u. Actually, u is an integer that refers to the the relevant factor u13 = 0.
recording frequency of the relational records of a-MIU 2. u = 1 means that the corresponding materials
and c-MIU shown in the database. In the OPP c-MIU and a-MIU are relevant. In Figure 6(b),
Han et al. 7

Figure 6. MIU-relevant model: (a) data model of MIU, (b) value of relevant factor u, and (c) relevant model of MIU.

line 1, column 1, c-MIU(W1) is relevant to

a-MIU(E1), thus the relevant factor u11 = 1.
3. u . 1 indicates that the corresponding MIUs
contain coding errors and need further process-
ing. For example, if u = 2, this reveals that the
relationship record of a pair of a-MIU and
c-MIU is stored twice, that is, this is an MIU
encoding error, possibly as a result of a problem
with the corresponding IoT data sensor or data

The horizontal coordinate axis is created by sorting

the a-MIU in accordance with the assembly order in
the BOM, and the longitudinal coordinate axis is cre-
ated by sorting the c-MIU based on the starting time of
the operation; thus, an MIU-relevant model with a rec-
tangular coordinate system is generated. Then, the rele-
vant MIU model can be simplified as a matrix:
U = (uij)a 3 c, which is designed in Figure 6(c). In this
model, uij means the relevant factor of a-MIUi and c-
Figure 7. Various cases in the MIU-relevant model.
MIUj; the parameters i and j represent the vertical and
horizontal coordinates of the MIU in the coordinate
system, respectively; and a and c are the amounts of a-
MIU and c-MIU, respectively, in the relevant model. continuous area composed of the points where u = 1. If
the value of u at point (i, j) is not continuous, as pre-
MIU analysis function. In light of the previous definition sented in case 2 and case 3 in Figure 7, then various
of the MIU, in the MIU-relevant model, the required points in the section from (i 2 k, j 2 k) to (i + k, j + k)
records for the corresponding materials can easily be need to be selected to acquire the corresponding MIU
obtained using the MIU. However, because of the tech- for processing. The value k defines the size of the selec-
nical characteristics of the IoT tag and the complexity tion space, and k = 1 is common. In addition, for incor-
of the OPP production network, data errors in the rect records where u . 1, the adjacent points are more
MIU are unavoidable. Therefore, an automatic analysis likely to arise from MIU data error; thus, the corre-
function for MIU data is designed for the OPPMMS sponding MIUs of the adjacent points need to be
system to identify possible erroneous MIU data and selected for processing, as displayed in case 1 in Figure 7.
contact the relevant data source for further processing. In the agent-based OPPMMS, the above formula
According to the MIU-relevant model, this problem and criteria are used to MIU analyze algorithm design
can be described as a dualistic function with index (i, j), for intelligence agent. If we define that uij can be
where i and j are described as above, as demonstrated in expressed as u(i, j), an algorithm of the MIU analysis
Figure 7. Generally, the OPP production process is con- function is described as pseudo-code, as manifested in
tinuous, and so the relevant model embodies a Table 1.
8 Advances in Mechanical Engineering

Table 1. Algorithm for MIU analysis.

Index Content

1 Specify the analysis interval as a matrix: U = (uij)a3c,

where a and c,
respectively, represent the number of records of a-MIU
and c-MIU in analysis interval
2 Enter the search radius k for uij
3 Traverse the search space, marking the conditions
for i = 1 to a
for j = 1 to c Figure 8. Agents and agent categories in the proposed
if uij . 1, mark the uij and nearly point from OPPMMS.
u(i 2 k, j 2 k) to u(i + k, j + k)
else for i1 = i 2 k to i + k the product construction plan. This process manifests
for j1 = j 2 k to j + k the characteristics of the MIU architecture. The proto-
if u(i1, j1) 2 u(i, j)  1,
mark point (i, j) and nearly point from type OPPMMS framework, which combines business
(i 2 k, j 2 k) to (i + k, j + k) flow with data flow, is exhibited in Figure 9.
4 Record all marked data for further operation

a-MIU: attribute-material information unit; c-MIU: correlation-material

Agent communication
information unit. The OPPMMS communication network plays an
important role in an agent-based system. Regarding the
communication protocol, many kinds of agent commu-
OPPMMS architecture nication languages (ACLs) have been proposed for
System framework MASs, such as the knowledge interchange format
(KIF), the knowledge query manipulation language
The OPPMMS that we have developed is based on a (KQML), and the ACL by the Foundation for
multi-agent structure and consists of a manager agent Intelligent Physical Agents (FIPA-ACL).45 In view of
(MA), an encoder agent (EA), an analyzer agent (AA), the FIPA-ACL standards that have been widely and
an IA, and a resource agent (RA). These agents are successfully employed, the FIPA-ACL is selected to
classified into three categories: monitor agents, function facilitate communication among the agents. Figure 10
agents, and data agents. Monitor agents mainly include illustrates a typical ACL-based agent communication
MAs and backup MAs acting as mediators for the message. In terms of the system’s component develop-
other agents to ensure that the OPPMMS runs prop- ment process, extensible markup language (XML) is
erly. Function agents include EAs and AAs, which exe- used to format the ACL content.
cute the main functions of the OPPMMS regarding The agent communication mechanism is designed in
external instructions, predetermined mission planning, Figure 11 and is divided into four layers: communica-
and consultation with various other agents. Data agents tion object, communication type, communication con-
include IAs and RAs, which provide data services in tent, and agent ontology. In the OPPMMS, agent
response to the demand from other agents and imple- communication has been divided into two types: node-
ment data transmission services between the OPPMMS to-node communication for operational instructions
and external systems. and blackboard communication for task assignment. In
The relationship among these agents is illustrated in accordance with the data requirements of the agent and
Figure 8. These agents should be run at many different the task description, the agents themselves select the
digital terminals and are distributed across different corresponding communication type. Each immobile
enterprise departments that are compatible with the agent in the OPPMMS receives and sends related mes-
material management process. Additionally, the proto- sages or mobile agents to a communication object via
type system is equipped with one or more control cen- its communication interface.
ters and distributed task architecture.
In an OPPMMS based on multi-agents, EAs are
deployed on production nodes as required, generating
Detailed design of agents
corresponding MIUs as encoder rules in the knowledge Functional definition of agents. Each agent in the system
library and then sending the MIUs to the RAs. The has its own specific functionality. All the agents are
a-MIU generation process reflects the hierarchical organized toward a common goal through the indus-
product structure in the BOM, and the c-MIU genera- trial IoT. The functionalities of each agent are as
tion process reflects the results following execution of follows:
Han et al. 9

Figure 9. OPPMMS framework based on the MAS.

schema. In addition, the MA sends and receives

the necessary messages to and from the other
agents to coordinate their operations.
2. MIU EA. The function of the EA is to perform
MIU encoding work. The MIU will be gener-
ated by the EA in accordance with the rules of
the knowledge library and additional informa-
tion. After MIU generation, the EA will send
the MIU to other agents for further processing.
3. MIU AA. Generated by an immobile agent, the
Figure 10. Agent communication message. AA is designed as a mobile agent in accordance
with the agent transfer protocol. For instance,
when MIU data need to be analyzed, an AA
1. MA. The MA is at the center of the multiple will be generated and sent to a mobile agent
agents in this system and is responsible for context for task execution. Once the AA has
interaction management and conflict resolution been activated in a mobile agent context, it will
among all other agents. The knowledge library analyze the MIU using the MIU analysis algo-
of the MA stores the rules and logic for the rithm shown in Table 1 and send the results to
MAS management and conflict resolution the corresponding EAs for further processing.
10 Advances in Mechanical Engineering

Figure 11. OPPMMS agent communication mechanism.

4. IA. The IA plays an important role in this sys- agent structure in an OPPMMS is developed in
tem, being used to connect the MAS with exter- Figure 12.
nal systems. Crucial information, such as the
BOM and OPP construction plan, is sent to the
knowledge library of other agents through the OPPMMS working mechanism
IA. Furthermore, the IA provides an interactive The OPPMMS uses centralized data storage, which is
channel for system users such as enterprise man- integrated with the enterprise database system, to inte-
agers, who can monitor system processes and grate with other management systems in an enterprise.
intervene as required. However, a lot of materials and complicated processes
5. RA. The function agents and the IA are con- are involved in OPP manufacturing processes, and a
nected to all the enterprise databases by the RA, large volume of MIU data are generated at different
which stores all the information on materials locations on the enterprise IoT. The calculation load
during the OPP manufacturing process. After involved in MIU analysis is relatively large and needs
receiving the MIU data from the EA, the RA to be performed by multiple agents. Therefore, a multi-
will classify and store them. Moreover, when agent cooperation mechanism for MIU analysis has
MIUs need to be analyzed, the RA generates been designed in line with the MAS architecture.
AAs and provides the runtime environment for
the AAs.
Main operational scope of the OPPMMS
The main operational scope of the OPPMMS is divided
Agent structure. In view of the belief–desire–intention
into two parts: MIU data formation and MIU data
(BDI) model, an agent comprises a collection of com-
analysis. MIU data formation involves the acquisition
ponents. Each collection contains a goal (intention), a
of material information from IoT sensors. MIU data
controller (desire), and some knowledge (belief) about
analysis involves the analysis of the MIU data and for-
its external environment.
warding the results to the corresponding EAs for fur-
Agents in an OPPMMS are divided into two cate-
ther processing.
gories: mobile agents and immobile agents. Immobile
agents are deployed on the production nodes or data
nodes in networks, execute the crucial tasks in an MIU data formation. As Figure 13 shows, the MIU data
OPPMMS, and provide the runtime environment for formation process involves the acquisition of material
mobile agents. Mobile agents include AAs, which are attributes and the correlation of material information
generated by immobile agents to analyze MIUs. The from the IoT sensors, which is then encoded into
Han et al. 11

Figure 12. OPPMMS agent structure.

Table 2. MIU data formation process.

Step Content

1 The EA senses the sensor information from IoT

2 EA obtains the required BOM file through the IA
3 In view of the sensor information and BOM file, EA
generates MIUs
4 EA sends MIUs to RA
5 According to the MIU type (a-MIU or c-MIU), RA
stores the MIU and forms the MIU data model
6 For the a-MIU, the EA sends a-MIU to the external
system through the IA.
The a-MIU data will be written to the IoT tag of the
material entity
Figure 13. MIU data formation sequence.
EA: encoder agent; IoT: Internet of Things; BOM: bill of materials; IA:
interface agent; MIU: material information unit; RA: resource agent;
a-MIU: attribute-material information unit; c-MIU: correlation-material
information unit.

a-MIU and c-MIU by the EA and sent to the RA for

data storage. This process is presented in Figure 13 and
Table 2 and mainly reflects the sequential cooperation
of the EA, RA, and IA.

MIU data analysis. MIU data analysis is mainly per-

formed by the AAs that are generated by the RAs.
When analysis of MIU data is required, first the MA
specifies the analysis content, and then the RA provides Figure 14. MIU data analysis sequence.
the corresponding MIU data and generates AAs to
analyze the MIU. Considering the results, the corre-
sponding EA will be notified for further processing
(e.g. finding the cause of the data error). This process is Multi-agent cooperation mechanism
designed in Figure 14 and Table 3. The MIU analysis task is executed by the AAs that are
In the MIU analysis process, multi-agents run a generated by the RAs. The MIU acquisition capacity
cooperation mechanism to allocate the tasks in Step 2. and AA running space are limited for a single RA.
This mechanism is described as follows. Therefore, an effective and efficient multi-agent
12 Advances in Mechanical Engineering

Table 3. MIU data analysis process.

Step Content

1 MA gives the target analysis interval of the MIU

2 Considering the target analysis interval of MIU, MA organizes multiple RAs for task allocation
3 and 4 After task determining, RA generates AAs to analyze the MIU data. The analysis method is described in Table 1
5 AA sends analysis results to corresponding EA
6 According to analysis results, EA sends MIU and other required information to the operators through IA
for further process
7 EA terminates corresponding AA

MA: manager agent; MIU: material information unit; RA: resource agent; AA: analyzer agent; EA: encoder agent.

Table 4. Cooperation procedure for agents.

Step Content

1 The MA as the CO releases the CG that is the MIU analysis from (a0, c0) to (a1, c1) via the blackboard
communication type
2 Regarding the response of cooperation agents, several RAs decide whether to participate in task bidding
3 MA collects bid RAs
4 In OPPMMS, the set of evaluation criteria for bid RAs is proposed: C = (c1, c2, c3, c4), where
c1: MIU analysis capability of RA
c2: network response time of RA
c3: task load of RA
c4: reliability of RA
5 MA specifies two backup management agents as evaluation agent, to form a set {e1, e2}
6 MA establishes weighting P coefficients W for the evaluation criteria
W = (w1, w2, w3, w4), and 4i = 1 wi = 1
7 Set rij as the evaluation score of bid agent evaluated by evaluation agent ej, in line with evaluation criterion ci from
C in Step 3. For each bid agent, the first-evaluation matrix R is generated as follows
2 3
r11 r12
6 r21 r22 7
R=6 4 r31 r32 5

r41 r42
8 In accordance with W in StepP 6 and R in Step 7,Pthe negotiation evaluation matrix N is generated as follows
N = WR = (n1, n2), and n1 = 4i = 1 wi ri1 , n2 = 4i = 1 wi ri2
9 In view of the methods of maximum membership degree, for bid agent i, the final estimation FEi is proposed as
follows: FEi = max(n1, n2)
10 According to the final estimation FEi of the bid agent i from high to low, the CO selects RAs to form the CR, until
the sum of RAs analysis capacity is greater than the CG requirements
11 After the identification of CT, the CR will be executed to implement the CG. For MIU analysis task, the execution
process of each agent is described in Table 1

MA: manager agent; CO: cooperation organizer; CG: cooperation goal; MIU: material information unit; RA: resource agent; OPPMMS: offshore
platform project material management system; CR: cooperation result; CT: cooperation team.

collaboration mechanism should be proposed in light of solution. Therefore, the MAS-based cooperation
the evaluation regarding the working criteria of agents mechanism is designed as follows to complete the MIU
in OPPMMS, aiming to select the targeting agents to analysis autonomously and effectively. The cooperation
cooperatively make MIU analysis as well as avoid task model is designed as a multi-tuple
conflicts and resource waste. In this regard, fuzzy com-
prehensive evaluation method has the capacity to pro- Cooperation = (CO, CG, CT, CR)
vide robust and accurate evaluation corresponding to
multiple criteria, which can be adopted and applied in The cooperation organizer (CO) is an agent that
MAS to deal with task allocation problem while achieve proposes cooperation objectives and develops coopera-
a comparatively high efficiency.46 On top of these, to tion plans. In an OPPMMS, all the immobile agents
take advantage of the autonomy of MAS, task alloca- can be set as COs. Cooperation goals (CGs), which are
tion process in OPPMMS can be designed as a bidding presented by the COs, include cooperation tasks and
mechanism, guaranteeing an overall optimal and agile task performances. The cooperation team (CT) is set
Han et al. 13

Figure 15. Interface and interaction process of the prototype system.

by the CO in accordance with the requirements of the

cooperation task. The cooperation result (CR) is the
allocation of cooperation tasks in light of the negotia-
tions by the CT.
In accordance with the agents’ cooperation model in
an OPPMMS, the agent cooperation procedure for a
collaborative MIU analysis that is made by the task
characteristics includes an evaluation method and cri-
teria for bid agents that are designed based on fuzzy
comprehensive evaluation.46 Table 4 presents a
hypothetical MIU analysis task example to describe Figure 16. MIU data items.
this process.

Example of MIU data formation

OPPMMS validation Considering the MIU data formation presented in
Judging by the characteristics of system user demands Table 2, the OPPMMS implements the functions that
and the above analysis, an OPPMMS prototype that form and store MIUs after processing the material
adopts a browser/server structure has been developed information acquired by the IoT sensors. Figure 16
and implemented using Java Agent Development shows some items of MIU data that have been exported
Framework (JADE) 4.3.3. This prototype system has from the OPPMMS.
been deployed in an OPP enterprise in China’s To verify the functions of the MIU data model in
Shandong province to verify the performance. The pro- material management, a set of examples is used to simu-
totype system interfaces together with data flow and late the application of the MIU:
typical communication messages are illustrated in
Figure 15. 1. Material information tracing. Suppose that there
are some processing quality problems in material
14 Advances in Mechanical Engineering

Figure 17. Task execution for MIU data analysis.

with the a-MIU code F03G01. Hence, the related first row of the first, second, and fourth columns,
material records need to be traced. More precisely, respectively. Consequently, material with a-MIU
through the OPPMMS, all the MIUs with search code F03G01, F03G02, or F03G04 in any product
conditions such that the a-MIU code is F03G01 will needs to be located and checked to confirm whether
be retrieved. In Figure 16, this is represented as the operational errors have impacted on other
MIU: \MIU = F03G01-F1A150903. in the first materials.
row of the first column. In accordance with the
encoding rules displayed in Figure 4, the decoding
information is obtained as follows: Example of MIU data analysis
Here, production data from an OPP enterprise are used
The material with code F03G01, on date 03/09/15, was to support the MIU analysis process in our OPPMMS.
processed through a procedure in which the code of the The MIU data analysis procedure using cooperation
worker was F1 and the code of the process was A. mechanism parameters is as follows:

2. Material information tracking. Suppose that there 1. Obtain the MIU analysis tasks. In this task, the
are operational errors involving material with the c- MIU analysis interval is manifested in Figure 17
MIU code F1A150903. Thus, the material that has and includes 19,960 MIUs.
passed through this operation needs to be tracked. 2. The MA releases the task in the system.
This means that through the OPPMMS, all the 3. The RA learns about the MIU analysis task and
MIUs with search conditions such that the c-MIU decides whether to participate. There are four
code is F1A150903 will be retrieved. In Figure 16, RAs participating in bidding for this task, form-
this is represented by three MIUs: \MIU = ing a set of bid agents B: B = {b1, b2, b3, b4}.
F03G01-F1A150903., \MIU = F03G02-F1A150 4. The MA specifies two backup MAs as evalua-
903., and \ MIU = F03G04-F1A150903. in the tion agents {e1, e2}.
Han et al. 15

Table 5. Evaluation process data.

Bid agent b1 Bid agent b2 Bid agent b3 Bid agent b4

ri1 ri2 ri1 ri2 ri1 ri2 ri1 ri2

r1j 0.20 0.80 0.80 0.20 0.50 0.50 0.70 0.30

r2j 0.40 0.60 0.25 0.75 0.35 0.65 0.55 0.45
r3j 0.45 0.55 0.60 0.40 0.45 0.55 0.75 0.25
r4j 0.30 0.70 0.45 0.55 0.55 0.45 0.50 0.50
N 0.3225 0.6775 0.5775 0.4225 0.4550 0.5450 0.6550 0.3450
FEi 0.6775 0.5775 0.5450 0.6550
RA capability 12,000 MIUs 8000 MIUs 6000 MIUs 8000 MIUs

RA: resource agent; MIU: material information unit.

5. In accordance with enterprise expert guidance, can be summarized as working automation, informa-
the weighting factors for the evaluation criteria tion accuracy, and functional modularity.
set C, which is described in Step 4 in Table 4, Future work will focus on the improvement of the
are determined to be W = (0.40, 0.25, 0.25, OPPMMS and other integrated systems. Furthermore,
0.10). an advanced MIU encoding format, analysis and retrie-
6. In accordance with the evaluation procedure, val algorithms for MIU data, intelligent analysis of
which is explained in Steps 5–10 in Table 4, and larger volumes of MIUs and other OPP data, and opti-
the weighting coefficients for evaluation criteria mized cooperation mechanisms for multi-agents will be
W, the bid agents b1–b4 are evaluated. The eva- investigated.
luation process data are shown in Table 5.
7. According to the final estimation FEi and analy- Declaration of conflicting interests
sis capability of bid RAs, bid agents b1 and b4, The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with
with a total of more than 20,000 MIU analysis respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this
capabilities that satisfy the task requirements for article.
19,960 MIUs, are selected to execute the MIU
analysis. Funding
8. Set the analysis radius k = 1 to execute the anal- The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial sup-
ysis. Figure 17 shows the OPPMMS export of port for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this
abnormal MIU data after this MIU analysis. article: This article was financially supported by the National
The OPPMMS explains that it can automati- Natural Science Foundation of China (project no. 51679059).
cally analyze the MIUs in accordance with the
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