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Procedia CIRP 41 (2016) 3 – 8


A fuzzy logic based approach to explore manufacturing system

changeability level decisions
Emmanuel Francalanzaa,*, Jonathan C. Borga, Carmen Constantinescub
CERU, Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, Unviersity of Malta, Msida, MSD2080 Malta
Digital Engineering Group, Fraunhofer IAO, Nobelstraße 12, 70569 Stuttgart, Germany

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +356-2340-2060; E-mail address:


In order to meet customer requirements, manufacturing companies need to cope with the challenge of constantly evolving product ranges.
Breakthroughs in the analysis of big data will give us a better understanding of market trends and customer requirements, but there will always
be some degree of uncertainty when foreseeing product evolution. Manufacturing system designers have to therefore take decisions under
uncertainty, whilst considering other factors such as business, manufacturing and change strategies.
In order to address this problem the factories need to be designed with a level of changeability that will allow them to be flexible or reconfigurable
to produce future product platform evolutions. This paper thus contributes a novel fuzzy logic based approach to support manufacturing system
designers in exploring changeability level decisions. Using this approach, this paper presents the system architecture used for an experimental
implementation of an intelligent ICT tool for supporting the design of a changeable manufacturing system.
© 2015
2015 The
The Authors.
B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
Peer-review under responsibility of the Scientific Committee of 48th CIRP Conference on MANUFACTURING SYSTEMS - CIRP CMS
Peer-review under responsibility of the scientific committee of 48th CIRP Conference on MANUFACTURING SYSTEMS - CIRP CMS 2015
Keywords: Manufacturing system; Changeability; Fuzzy logic

1. Introduction products based on market scenario planning, product feature

analysis and technological development analysis. Whilst still in
As argued by Westkämper [1] factories are complex and its infancy big data analysis is also being explored for extracting
long life products. The inherent nature of these long life systems insights into discovering what products to develop and send to
means that they need to be capable of producing different production [5].
product ranges throughout their life cycle [2].
Changing manufacturing systems and product requirements 1.1. Uncertainty in Changeable MS Design
can trace their origin in customer behavior and evolving product
requirements. This dynamic nature of customer requirements Breakthroughs in the analysis of big data and the use of
has been described as a constantly moving target [3], thus foresight exercises will give us a better understanding of market
presenting a significant challenge for several aspects of product trends and customer requirements. However, because of the
development. This means that when designing a new difficulty in forecasting customer requirements, there will
manufacturing system (MS) the factory planner has to ideally always be some degree of uncertainty when foreseeing product
consider and analyze not only the current product range evolution. Changeable MS designers have to therefore take
requirements but also how the products may evolve over time. decisions under uncertainty, whilst considering other factors
In order to meet this challenge, methods and techniques have such as business, manufacturing and change strategies.
been developed which allow us to get an insight, or derive some One approach to address this dynamic problem is to employ
knowledge, on how products and customer requirements will changeable manufacturing systems. An important requirement
evolve over time. One can for instance use Foresight exercises for modern factories is the need to deal with product families
[4] in order to construct improved planning models for new and their evolution over time. In order to deal with these

2212-8271 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
Peer-review under responsibility of the scientific committee of 48th CIRP Conference on MANUFACTURING SYSTEMS - CIRP CMS 2015
4 Emmanuel Francalanza et al. / Procedia CIRP 41 (2016) 3 – 8

challenges, MS designers have to resort to changeability. In [12] AlGeddawy investigates the co-evolution of both
Wiendahl et al [6] define changeability as “the characteristic to product design and manufacturing capabilities. A co-evolution
accomplish early and foresighted adjustments of the factory’s model is formulated and interpreted using parsimony analysis
structures and processes on all levels to change impulses of cladograms, inspired by natural species co-evolution. The
economically”. model is then used as a base for future manufacturing planning.
In order to develop and deploy changeability in industry, the
degree or extent of changeability needs to be established and 2.2. Changeable MS Design
designed into the manufacturing system solution.
Azab et al [13] propose a change framework and control loop
1.2. Motivation that enables companies to systematically assess the need for
reconfiguration in light of market supply and demand for their
As explained by Francalanza et al in [7] during the synthesis products. This approach allows them to determine the extent,
decision making activity of changeable manufacturing systems, timing, economic viability and feasibility of contemplated
factory planners do not only have to select machines, layouts changes.
and services but they also need to select the changeability level In [14], Taha and Rostam use a hybrid approach of fuzzy
and change enablers to implement. analytic hierarchy process and preference ranking organization
It can therefore be concluded that deciding this change level, method to select the most suitable machine from several
i.e. how changeable will the MS be, and what type of alternatives during flexible manufacturing cell design.
changeability to adopt (Transformability, Flexibility, Similarly Abdi [15] proposes a fuzzy multi-criteria decision
Reconfigurability), is a critical aspect of designing changeable model for evaluating reconfigurable machines. This research
manufacturing systems. The question therefore arises on how investigates reconfigurable machining system characteristics in
to select the change level and enablers required especially order to identify the crucial factors influencing the machine
under uncertain conditions. selection and the machine reconfiguration.
In this paper, we argue that such decisions are based on (i)
the change strategy adopted by the manufacturing company, 2.3. Evaluation of Changeability
and (ii) on the uncertainty of product evolution. Thus MS
designers have to be effectively supported in selecting the Mourtzis et al [16] make use of the Penalty of Change
degree of changeability and the changeability enablers which method to evaluate the flexibility in the design of
they are going to implement [8]. Therefore, the need arises to manufacturing systems. This method is used to evaluate the
develop tools that support the changeable MS design decision capability of alternative system designs to expand and increase
making activity taking place under uncertainty due to evolving their capacity and production range in order to meet the
customer requirements. demand. Zaeh [17] similarly proposes an approach for
The design of changeable manufacturing systems poses evaluating capacity flexibilities in manufacturing systems. This
many challenges to the stakeholders involved. As part of the approach considers the implication of uncertainty in market
Digital Factory [9] initiative this research aims to develop a conditions and also proposes a demand forecasting method.
digital support tool aimed at supporting stakeholders during the These methods are utilized to optimize the capacity planning of
MS design activities. a manufacturing system.
In [18], Xie et al propose a method for analysis of
2. Support for Changeable MS Design reconfigurability in manufacturing systems using artificial
intelligence theory based on Rough Sets Theory (RST). RST
This section presents a review of means developed to gives the benefit of data analysis and knowledge discovery from
support the MS design for evolving products and various imprecise and incomplete information. In Guan et al [19], and
extents of changeability. Chuu [20], a similar approach is adopted to analyze the
flexibility of manufacturing systems but instead using Fuzzy
2.1. Product Evolution Forecasting Set Theory (FST) and fuzzy linguistic terms.

Kivi [10] develops an approach for planning and forecasting 2.4. Research Gap
technology product evolution and the diffusion of new product
features. The approach used by this research was to first isolate The means reviewed show that there are several approaches
the underlying phenomena that governs the evolution process, that can be employed to consider product evolution, provide
and then formulate the process at the product category, product support during changeable MS design and also evaluate and
feature, and product model levels. The data generated from this analyze the MS designs developed. That said, none of these
analysis can be used in strategic and operational decision approaches provide proactive support in determining the
making. changeability level of a MS based on the uncertainty of product
A framework for design of reconfigurable machine tools evolution and the change strategy adopted by a company.
based on directed evolution is presented in [11]. The approach
predetermines how the machine requirements will evolve and
then the morphology of the machine modules is determined
with upgradeability and adaptability in mind.
Emmanuel Francalanza et al. / Procedia CIRP 41 (2016) 3 – 8 5

Fig. 2. Changeability level domain

Fig. 1. Changeable manufacturing system synthesis
In order to make these decisions, the factory planner has to
3. A Prescriptive Approach for Changeable MS Design know both the dynamic of the product evolution and the change
strategy adopted by the company. This commitment should also
To develop a tool to support Changeable MS design, it was be based on knowledge of changeable MS design, such as
first deemed critical to gain a deeper understanding of the knowledge of changeability enablers and changeability
design activities which are involved in this process. This section strategies. The result of the synthesis from the different
describes the activities which make up the design process of a domains of changeable MS design is a provisional design
Changeable MS as illustrated in Fig. 1. solution, i.e. a Provisional Factory Model.

This approach is based on work carried out by [7] and is 3.2.1. Changeability level domain
founded on the basic design cycle proposed by Roozenburg et
al [21]. Roozenburg’s approach describes the transformation Within this domain, MS designers commit to the level of
from product requirements into the detailed description of the changeability to implement. As illustrated in Fig. 2, MS
desired product. Since we base our arguments on Westkämper’s designers have to commit to either implementing
[1] paradigm that factories are complex and long life products, transformability on a factory level, to the generalized flexibility
we can apply Roozenburg’s product design approach to MS paradigm of FMS or to the customized flexibility of RMS.
design. The proposed approach emphasizes the changeable MS We argue, based on [6], that in order to make these
synthesis design activity, as this is where commitments are commitments the MS designers must take into consideration
made on the changeability level and enablers to be the change strategy that has been adopted by the company and
implemented. the dynamic of the products evolution. If the MS is to be
designed to manufacture the current product requirements, than
3.1. Analysis of Requirements it only needs to implement the necessary changeability [23].
On the other hand if the company wants to adopt an investment
In the first activity of the changeable MS design the designer strategy with the aim of gaining a superior competitive
must review the parts to be produced. The designer must advantage, then the required changeability must encompass
analyze the range of features of the product family. This both current and future product requirements.
includes those features which are the same across the range and
those features which are different, for example the product size. 3.2.2. Changeability enablers domain

3.2. MS Solution Synthesis The range of change enabler options available to the
designer is dependent on the previously chosen changeability
The next activity in the MS design cycle is Synthesis. As level. If the designer commits to developing a RMS then the
explained by Andreasen [22], synthesis can be defined as the designer has the option to commit to the six types of RMS
combination of components or elements to form a connected enablers.
whole. It is in this activity of the design cycle that the MS
designer develops solutions for the MS problems. It is also 3.2.3. MS elements domain
important to note that designers make commitment based on the
requirements defined in the analysis activity. For the purpose of deriving clearly defined factory elements
During synthesis of changeable manufacturing systems, that are elements of changeability, Nyhuis [24] uses the
consciously or not, designers make commitments in the classification of means, organization and space. Schuh et al.
following three domains: the changeability domain, the enabler [25] use the classification for factory elements of resources,
domain and in the design element domain. We argue that during processes and organization.
changeable MS synthesis, designers make provisional Since this research is strictly focusing on the technical and
commitments in these three domains. not on social aspects of changeability, MS elements are
classified as layout, machine, material handling, and services.
The range of options to be considered by the designer may also
6 Emmanuel Francalanza et al. / Procedia CIRP 41 (2016) 3 – 8

be constrained depending on the changeability enablers sets on the universe X that can accommodate “degrees of
previously committed. membership”. Equation 2 represents the “degree of
membership”ߤ஺෨ ሺ‫ݔ‬ሻ, of element ‫ݔ‬in fuzzy set ‫ܣ‬ሚ.
3.3. MS Solution Simulation
ߤ஺෨ ሺ‫ݔ‬ሻ ‫ א‬ሾͲǡͳሿ (2)
The next activity of the design cycle involves the Simulation
of the provisional design solution. Simulation involves the This approach to define the “degree of membership” of an
generation of an artificial history of a system and the object is particularly useful to the problem of selecting MS
observation of that history to draw inferences concerning the changeability level. The reasoning employed is based on expert
operating characteristics of the real system. The result of this knowledge which can be translated into rules. These rules
study is the expected properties of the provisional MS design consist of terms such as necessary, sufficient and competitive,
solution. that lead to linguistic uncertainty.
Fuzzy Logic hence allows us to handle the fuzziness
3.4. MS Evaluation associated with the linguistic uncertainty in describing product
evolution, change strategy and changeability.
During Evaluation of the provisional MS design solution the
expected properties are compared to the design criteria 4.2. Fuzzy Sets
established during the analysis stage. A value is then given to
that design solution to quantify how well the provisional Fuzzification is the process by which we convert crisp data
solution meets the product and business requirements. into fuzzy sets. Triangular and Trapezoidal membership
functions were used in order to describe the fuzzy sets used by
3.5. Final Decision and Implementation the FLS.
In the case of our MS design approach the fuzzy terms used
The MS designer will then decide whether to continue to describe product evolution are None, Maybe and Certainly
developing the solution. The design cycle may be repeated to as illustrated in Fig. 3. The fuzzy terms used to describe change
elaborate further the provisional design or to try a different type strategy are Necessary, Sufficient and Competitive and are
of solution to generate a better design proposal. Once the illustrated inFig. 4. The fuzzy terms used to describe
manufacturing system designer is satisfied that the provisional Changeability Level are Outsource, Flexible and
design meets the criteria, then the status will be upgraded to Reconfigurable and are illustrated in Fig. 5
that of final design and the project can move on to
implementation planning.

4. Intelligent Support for Changeable MS Design

To address the identified gap, in this paper we contribute an

approach based on intelligent computing with the aim of
proactively supporting the MS designer in the selection of MS
changeability level. Such an approach will allow designers to Fig. 3. Product evolution fuzzy set
proactively foresee [26] and explore consequences of their
selection decisions. In order to meet this aim, we have
developed a solution based on a Fuzzy Logic System (FLS).
Fuzzy Logic provides a means to deal with vagueness resulting
from the utilization of natural language.

4.1. Membership Functions

When proposing the idea of Fuzzy Logic, Zadeh [27]

proposed that set membership is the key to decision making Fig. 4. Change strategy fuzzy set
when faced with uncertainty. Classical sets contain objects that
satisfy precise properties of membership. As illustrated in
equation 1, for crisp sets, an element x in the universe X is either
a member of some crisp set A or not.
ͳǡ‫ܣ א ݔ‬
ܺ஺ ሺ‫ݔ‬ሻ ՜ ቄ (1)
Ͳǡ‫ܣ ב ݔ‬
On the other hand fuzzy sets contain objects that satisfy
imprecise properties of membership. Zadeh extends the notion
of binary membership to accommodate various “degrees of Fig. 5. Changeability level fuzzy set
membership” on the real continuous interval [0,1], were 0 and
1 represent no and full membership accordingly. Fuzzy Sets are
Emmanuel Francalanza et al. / Procedia CIRP 41 (2016) 3 – 8 7

Manufacturing System (DMS). In the case of a DMS when

future products that fall outside of the capability of the MS,
then it makes strategic sense to outsource these products in the
remote case that they are implemented into the product range.

4.5. Defuzzification

Defuzzification is the process by which the FLS converts the

output of the inference system into a crisp variable. The center
Fig. 6. Fuzzy inference system (Adapted from Mendel [28]) of gravity (CoG) method, shown in equation 5, was employed
by the prototype system as it provides an accurate result based
4.3. A Fuzzy Inference System on the weighted values of several output membership
As shown in Fig. 6, a rule based Fuzzy Logic System (FLS)

consists of four main components for mapping crisp inputs into ‫׬‬೉ ೘ೌೣ ఓಲ
෩ ሺ௫ሻ‫כ‬௫ௗ௫
‫ ܩ݋ܥ‬௑ ൌ ೘೔೙
೉ (3)
crisp outputs [28]. These components are the input fuzzifier, ‫׬‬೉ ೘ೌೣ ఓಲ
෩ ሺ௫ሻௗ௫
inference system, fuzzy rules and defuzzifier. The main
component of the FLS is the inference system, or as sometimes 5. Prototype Support Tool Implementation
referred to the inference engine. The inference system is the
component that executes the reasoning in the FLS. In a FLS the The intelligent approach described in Section 4 was
inference system reasoning is accomplished by carrying out implemented into a prototype digital tool for testing and
fuzzy set operations, such as fuzzy unions, fuzzy intersections evaluation purposes. In order to implement the FLS,
and fuzzy complements. jFuzzyLogic [29] an open-source java library was used. The
user interacts with the system through an internet browser and
4.4. MS Design Fuzzy Rules the Graphical User Interface (GUI) illustrated in Fig. 7, web
services were used in order to communicate between the GUI
Core to the inference activity are the fuzzy rules. There are and the backend which was running the FLS.
various ways to represent knowledge in an artificial The user interacts with the system through the commands in
intelligence system. One of the most common approaches it to the GUI. The GUI allows the user to edit the fuzzy sets, to
use rules that are expressed as a collection of IF-THEN customize the membership functions for the Product Evolution,
statements. These rules are expressions of natural language and Change Strategy and Changeability. In order to receive
are formed by two parts. The IF (antecedent or premise) part support, the user enters the crisp values for both product
and then THEN (conclusion or consequent) part. evolution and Change Strategy. The FLS then returns the
Rules may be extracted from numerical data or formulated defuzzified changeability extent value.
by experts. The following are the fuzzy rules developed during
this research and used by the inference engine: 6. Evaluation

x RULE 1: IF Product Evolution IS certainly OR Change The graph illustrated in Fig. 8, represents the response of the
Strategy IS competitive THEN changeability IS FLS to varying Product Evolution and Change Strategy inputs.
reconfigurability; At the extreme cases the graph shows that when Product
x RULE 2: IF Product Evolution IS maybe OR Change Evolution and Change Strategy are low, then the Changeability
Strategy IS sufficient THEN changeability IS Extent will be low. Likewise when Product Evolution and
flexibility; Change Strategy are high then the Changeability Extent is high.
x RULE 3: IF Product Evolution IS none OR Change
Strategy IS necessary THEN changeability IS

The reasoning behind these rules is derived from the

changeability and flexibility strategies proposed by [6], [23]. If
the planners are sure, i.e. product evolution uncertainty is low,
that that the products are going to evolve and that the change
strategy is competitive, then a Reconfigurable Manufacturing
System (RMS) should be designed. The MS designers would
then implement reconfigurability enablers during the MS
design process so that when product evolution occurs the MS
can be reconfigured accordingly.
On the other hand, if the planners are highly uncertain if the
product mix or volume over will evolve over time, and the Fig. 7. GUI for prototype support tool implementation
change strategy is to produce only the necessary product range,
then the MS designer should design a Dedicated
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