Chapter 10 Miscellaneous Modeling Topics

The goal of this chapter is to discuss several modeling concepts and related Simio features that will enhance your modeling skills. The sections in this chapter will generally stand on their own — there is no “central theme” that should be followed from beginning to end and you can pick and choose the sections to cover and the sequence based on your modeling needs.

10.1 Search Step

The Search step is a very flexible process step that is used to search for objects and table rows from a collection in a model. A collection is a group of objects in a model. Examples of collection types include Entity Populations, Queue States, Table Rows, Object Lists, Transporter Lists, and Node Lists (see the Help for a complete list of collection types). In this section, we describe two example models that demonstrate the use of the Search step. Several additional Search-related examples are available in the SimBit collection (from Simio, choose the Support ribbon and click on the Sample SimBit Solutions item and search the collection using the Search keyword).

10.1.1 Model 10-1: Searching For and Removing Entities from a Station

In this model, we want arriving entities to wait in a “holding station” from which they are periodically pulled and processed. This effectively decouples the entity arrival process from the entity processing. Figure 10.1 shows the completed model.

Model 10-1.

Figure 10.1: Model 10-1.

The queue state labeled Holding Station is associated with a Station Element defined in the model (see Figure 10.2).

Definitions for Model 10-1.

Figure 10.2: Definitions for Model 10-1.

The queue in the Facility View is placed using the Detached Queue button from the Animation ribbon (the queue state name is HoldingStation.Contents). Entities are transferred from the Source1 object to the station using the CreatedEntity add-on process trigger (see Figure 10.3).

The two processes associated with transferring entities from `Source1` to `HoldingStation`.

Figure 10.3: The two processes associated with transferring entities from Source1 to HoldingStation.

Process1 uses the End Transfer step to finalize the transfer of the entity. Note that this process is triggered by the event HoldingStation.Entered which is automatically fired when an entity enters the station.

With the logic described so far, created entities would be transferred directly to the holding station where they would remain indefinitely (until the end of the simulation run). Since we want to periodically pull the entities out of the holding station and process them, we will use a process triggered by a timer to search the holding queue and transfer any entities to the input node of ProcessA for processing. Figure 10.4 shows this process (PullEntities). In the Search step, we set the Collection Type to QueueState, the Queue State Name to HoldingStation.Contents, and the Limit to Infinity. With these property settings, the Search step will search the HoldingStation queue for all entities. Each found entity is then transferred to the input node of the ProcessA object. Note also that the process is triggered by the timer event (Timer1.Event – see Figure 10.2 for the timer definion). While this simple example uses a timer to periodically pull entities from the station, the same search logic could be used with many other pull or push mechanisms.

Process for searching the holding queue and transferring the entities to `ProcessA`.

Figure 10.4: Process for searching the holding queue and transferring the entities to ProcessA.

10.1.2 Model 10-2: Accumulating a Total Process Time in a Batch

In this second example of using the Search step, we want to batch entities and determine the processing time for the batch by summing the individual processing times for the entities comprising the batch. Figure 10.5 shows the completed model. Source1 creates type A entities (the Parent entities for the batches) and Source2 creates type B entities (the Member entities for the batches). The user-defined entity state ProcessTime is used to store the individual process times for type B entities and the total processing time for the batch (the type A entities) — the accumulated value. As shown in Figure 10.5, processing time values are randomly assigned to type B entities using a triangular distribution with parameters (1, 2, 3).

Definitions for Model 10-2.

Figure 10.5: Definitions for Model 10-2.

The combiner (Combiner1) object batches one type A entity with five type B entities. Hence, we would like for the processing time for the batch at Server1 to be the sum of the five values assigned to the type B entities prior to batching. We use the Processing add-on process trigger with Combiner1 so that the batch will be formed before the associated process is executed. Figure 10.6 shows the process. Here we use the Search step to find all entities in the batch queue (ModelEntity.BatchMembers) and sum the values of the expression specified in the Search Expression property (Candidate.ModelEntity.ProcessTime). This will sum the values of the specified expression and store the sum in the token return value. We can then assign this sum (Token.ReturnValue) to the ProcessTime state of the batch in the subsequent Assign step and use this state for the Processing Time property in Server1. As a result, the individual batch components of type B will each have a sampled process time and the batch will have the sum of these times as its process time.

Add-on process for summing the process times in Model 10-2.

Figure 10.6: Add-on process for summing the process times in Model 10-2.

Before we leave discussion of the Search step, a warning is in order. The Search step is very powerful and can do many things, but there is a downside - the potential for overuse. Say, for example, that you have a table of 10,000 rows or a collection of 10,000 entities that you perhaps want to search at every time advance to determine the next appropriate action. While Simio can do this for you easily, you might notice that your execution speed becomes noticeably slower. Overuse of searches is a common cause of execution speed problems.

10.2 Model 10-3: Balking and Reneging

Balking and reneging are common queueing behaviors that can be tricky to model. Balking occurs when an arriving entity chooses not to enter a queue (e.g., a potential customer deciding that a line is too long and bypassing the system). Reneging occurs when an entity in a queue chooses to leave before receiving service (e.g., you wait in line for a little while and decide that the line is moving too slowly and you leave). Jockeying or line-switching is a related queue behavior which occurs when a customer reneges from one line and joins another. Fortunately, Simio offers comprehensive support for both balking and reneging using the Buffer Logic properties in objects from the Standard Library. Model 10-3 is a modified version of the ATM model from Section 4.4 where we incorporate basic balking and reneging behaviors for the ATM customers. In the modified model, arriving customers should balk if there are already 4 customers waiting in line and customers already in line should probabilistically leave the line once they’ve been in line for 3 minutes (we chose these two values arbitrarily – the actual values that you would use would be situation-specific).

Figure 10.7 shows Model 10-3 with the ATM1 object properties displayed. We have added two additional sink objects – balking entities will be sent to the Balks sink and reneging entities will be sent to the Renegs sink. Note in the properties window that the Input Buffer Capacity for the ATM1 object is set to 4 and the Balk Decision Type property is set to Blocked. This indicates that when an entity arrives to a full buffer, that rather than blocking on the network (the default behavior), the arriving entity will be transferred to Input@Balks.

Model 10-3 and the ATM1 object properties.

Figure 10.7: Model 10-3 and the ATM1 object properties.

The reneging behavior is specified by the Renege Triggers property group (see Figure 10.8. Here we specify that after waiting for 3 minutes, the entity should renege with probability 0.5. Those entities that do renege are sent to Input@Reneges (the input node to the sink). The entities that “fail” the probability test will simply remain in the queue.

Renege Triggers properties for Model 10-3.

Figure 10.8: Renege Triggers properties for Model 10-3.

While the balking and reneging behaviors in Model 10-3 are quite basic, similar methods can be used to develop quite complex (and comprehensive) balking, reneging, and jockeying behavior in models. As with most other Simio-specific topics, there are several SimBit Solutions that demonstrate the use of balking and reneging, including:

  • BalkingOnSourceBlockingOnServer - Simple balking on a source with no buffer space.

  • ChangingQueuesWhenServerFails - Entities waiting at one server change to another server when their server fails.

  • ServerQueueWithBalkingAndReneging - Entities have individual number in line tolerances which causes balking as well as individual waiting time tolerances which cause them to renege IF they are not close (within their personal stay zone) to being served.

  • MultiServerSystemWithJockeying - Whenever another line becomes shorter than the one entity is waiting in, it will move (jockey) to a shorter line.

10.3 Task Sequences

Since we first introduced the Server object in Chapter 4 we have always left the Process Type property set to Specific Time. This results in a single-phase operation with a single associated processing time. What if you want something more complex like (for example) multiple operations in sequence or in parallel or execution based on conditions? Simio has a solution – Task Sequences.

Task Sequences define and execute a structured sequence of processing tasks. The easiest way to use them is to specify a Process Type of Task Sequence on a Server, which then exposes a Processing Tasks repeat group of Tasks to be executed. Note this capability is also found on the Combiner and Separator and can also be used via the Task Sequences Element directly. A Task in a Task Sequence can be as simple as a processing time, or can have many more options like secondary resources, material requirements, state assignments and add-on processes. A sequence might have a single task, or many of them. If you have multiple tasks, they can be executed sequentially, in parallel, conditionally, probabalistically, and in any combination of these options.

Let’s illustrate with a very simple scenario. Consider a two-stage painting operation where the first stage is Prepare, requiring 0.5 to 1.5 minutes (uniform) and the second stage is Paint requiring 0.5 to 2.0 minutes with a mode of 1.0 minutes (triangular). Parts arrive to the system according to an exponential distribution with a mean interarrival time of 2.5 minutes. While this simple system could easily be modeled using two servers, since it all happens at a single location, let’s model it with a single two-stage server instead.

  • Add a Source, Server, and Sink, and set the source properties appropriately.

  • On the server we will need to specify a Process Type of Task Sequence.

  • Click on the Processing Tasks to open the repeat group of Tasks.

  • Add a task. Change the Name to Prepare, and the Processing Time to Random.Uniform(0.5, 1.5). Leave all other fields at their default values.

  • Add a second task. Change the Sequence Number to 20, indicating that it must follow task “10,” the first one. Set the Name to Paint, and the Processing Time to Random.Triangular(0.5, 1.0, 2.0). Again, leave all other fields at their default values.

  • Your work should look similar to Figure 10.9.

Task Sequences repeat group for Model 10-4 (Initial).

Figure 10.9: Task Sequences repeat group for Model 10-4 (Initial).

If you run the model now it should appear to work, but it is difficult to tell if it is working correctly. We encourage you to examine the operation in the Trace window using Step to study the behavior of a single entity moving through the system.

Let’s make an enhancement to the model that will allow us to learn more features and illustrate more clearly that the model is working. Let’s assume that this model has a worker named Prepper, with home node BasicNode1 placed in the vicinity of the source. And the model has a second worker named Painter with home node BasicNode2, placed in the vicinity of the sink. Both workers should return to their home location when idle. We also have a third BasicNode named WorkPlace that is placed just above the place where the entity waits while processing on the server.

If you go to the server and reopen the Task Sequences repeat group, you will note a Resource Requirements section that is similar to the previously resource specifications. Change both tasks (the first is illustrated in Figure 10.10 so that you request the appropriate worker and have him come to the WorkPlace node to do the work. Now when you run the model, you should see the Prepper approach from the left to do the Prepare task and then immediately see the Painter approach from the right to do the Paint task.

Task Sequences repeat group for Model 10-4 (Final).

Figure 10.10: Task Sequences repeat group for Model 10-4 (Final).

Just as we specified resource requirements above, in that same task repeat group we can also specify Material Requirements. Here we have the choice to either produce or consume Materials as well as to produce or consume a Bill of Materials (e.g., the list of materials required to make up another material).

Every task also has a Branch Type that helps determine under what circumstances the task should be done. In our above example, we used the default of Always, indicating, as the name implies that we will always do both of those tasks. But other choices include Conditional, Probabilistic, and Independent Probabilistic. For example, we might have specified the Probabilistic branch type on Preparation if that task only needed to be done, say 45% of the time. Note that at the beginning of this paragraph we used the phrase “helps determine” if the task should be done. Another consideration on whether a task should be done is based on if its previous task was cancelled (e.g., if Preparation isn’t needed, should I still do Paint anyway?). The Auto Cancel Trigger property defaults to cancelling the task if All Immediate Predecessors Cancelled, but can also let the task proceed if you choose None for the action.

When you have more than one task, you must specify in what order to process them. In our model above, we just specified sequential task numbers (e.g., 10 and 20). For relative simple sequences, this is probably the easiest way. If you refer back to the server, you will see an Other Task Sequence Options grouping which contains a Task Precedence Method property. In addition to the Sequence Number Method which we already used, you can also choose from Immediate Successor and Immediate Predecessor. These latter two options often are much easier to use to create complex sequence diagrams like Figure 10.11.

More complex task sequence using sequence numbering.

Figure 10.11: More complex task sequence using sequence numbering.

Recall that when we introduced the server, we skipped over the Process Type property and just used Specific Time, until we thought you were ready to learn about Task Sequences. Well, we’ve done it again. Each task in the sequence has a Process Type that we skipped over until now. We are still not going to cover the details here, but it is worth mentioning that a task is not limited to a simple processing time. You can also select Process Name to execute a process of any length; Submodel to send an entity clone to a submodel (e.g., a set of objects) and wait for it to complete; or Sequence Dependent Setup to automatically calculate processing time based on data specified in a Changeover Logic element.

One final note on task sequences … in some applications there are many, perhaps hundreds, of tasks completed at a single station. For example, when you are assembling an airplane, the plane might move to position one and have dozens of crews execute hundreds of tasks over several days, then the plane moves to position two for more work. Manually entering that into a task sequences like we have illustrated above would be tedious. Many such models are data driven as described in Section 7.7 The Other Task Sequence Options in the server properties contains some additional options to support data driven task sequences. We suggest reviewing the following models for more information:

  • SimBit: ServerUsingTaskSequenceWithWorkers illustrates four serial tasks used with workers.

  • SimBit: TaskSequenceAndWorker illustrates concurrent tasks that move around worker.

  • SimBit: ServerUsingTaskSequenceAlternativeMethodsForDefiningTaskPrecedence illustrates different task precedent definitions

  • SimBit: ServersUsingTaskSequenceWithDataTablesJobShop illustrates use with data tables.

  • Example: HealthCareClinic illustrates all task data specified in relational data tables.

10.4 Event-based Decision Logic

As we learned in Section, events are messages that can be fired to communicate between objects. Events are useful for informing other objects that something important has happened and for incorporating custom logic. Let’s look at that topic in a bit more depth.

There are many ways to generate events in Simio, in fact, many events are automatically defined and triggered. For example, every time an entity enters or exits a node, an event is generated. Since most models have nodes at the entry and exit of most objects, this gives a very easy way to detect important state changes and trigger other things to happen. Likewise a number of Standard Library objects can respond to selected events. For example, if you want to have just-in-time arrivals of pallets into a system, you can use the Arrival Mode on a Source to cause creation of objects only when a pallet leaves a specified node. Refer to the SimBit RegeneratingCombiner for an example.

There are many other automatic events that are produced by the Standard Library objects, including:

  • When an entity begins or ends a transfer or is destroyed.

  • When a resource is allocated or released, changes capacity, or is failed or repaired.

  • When a server changes capacity, or is failed or repaired.

  • When a worker or vehicle enters or leaves a node, begins or ends a transfer, is allocated or released, changes capacity, or is failed or repaired.

Likewise many Standard Library object actions are triggered by events, including:

  • Source can trigger entity creation (as discussed above).

  • Source can stop creating entities.

  • Server, resource, conveyor, or vehicle can start a failure.

  • Vehicle or worker can stop a dwell time.

With all of those combinations, you might begin to realize that you can make a lot of dynamic decisions based on using properties in the Standard Library objects and the automatic events they generate. But before we demonstrate that, let’s go one level deeper. In addition to all these automatic events, you can define your own events and trigger them in very flexible ways using elements and steps. Elements and steps trigger and respond to events in a similar fashion to the Standard Library, but you have even more flexibility and control. And we can even define our own user-defined events on the Events window of the Definitions tab. Let’s examine some ways we can trigger, or “fire” our own events:

  • Station element - used to define a capacity constrained location for holding entities representing discrete items. Generates Entered, Exited, and CapacityChanged events.

  • Timer element- fires a stream of events according to a specified IntervalType. Generates event named Event each time the timer matures. The timer can also respond to external events to trigger future timer events or reset the timer.

  • Monitor element - used to detect a discrete value change or threshold crossing of a specified state variable or group of state variables. Generates event named Event each time the monitor detects a monitored state change.

  • Fire step - used to fire a user-defined event.

As we discussed above, many Standard Library objects have properties that allow them to act when an event is received. But we are not limited to those predefined reactions – we can define our own reactions. The two common ways of doing this are using the Wait step inside a process or triggering the Process itself.

So far all the processes we have used have been started or triggered automatically by Simio (e.g., OnRunInitialized) or by the object they are defined in (e.g., an Add-On Process). But another very useful way of triggering the start of a process is by using the property named Triggering Event Name to subscribe to a specific event. As the name implies, when the specified event is received, this process will start and a token is created which starts executing the triggered process (note that if a Triggering Event Condition is specified, then it must evaluate to True before the process is started). The Subscribe step allows you to dynamically make the same sort of relationship – typically with a specific entity. And you can dynamically cancel that relationship using the Unsubscribe step.

Another, even finer way of reacting to an event is using the Wait step. In this case, the step is inactive (e.g., it ignores all events) until a token executes the Wait step. That token will then “wait” in the Wait step until one or more of the specified events has occurred. This is commonly used to force a token (and possibly its associated object) to wait at a certain point in the model until a condition has occurred. For example, you might have all priority 2 parts wait at a node, perhaps on a conveyor, until all the priority 1 parts, perhaps on another conveyor, have been completed. The last priority 1 part might Fire an “AllDone” event that the priority 2 parts are waiting on.

While there are many simple applications of Wait and Fire, an interesting and fairly common application is the coordination or synchronization of two entities, when either entity could arrive to the coordination point first. For example perhaps we have a patient waiting to proceed to imaging (e.g., an MRI) but he cannot proceed until his insurance paperwork is approved. But the insurance paperwork cannot continue until the patient is prepared and ready to enter the MRI. It’s easy to consider having PatientReady and PaperworkReady events where each entity waits for the other. But if you don’t know which entity will arrive first that presents the problem of prematurely firing an event, before the other entity is waiting for it. The solution is to use a state variable to indicate the presence or ready state of either object, a Decide step to check that state, and then either Fire or Wait on the other entity. We will leave this to you to explore the details in the homework problems. One final note in this section is to consider alternatives to event-based logic. While the event-based approaches are generally very efficient, sometimes you need additional flexibility.

  • The Scan step may be used to hold a process token at a step until a specified condition is true. When a token arrives at a Scan step, the scan condition is evaluated. If the condition is true, then the token is permitted to exit the step without delay. Otherwise, the token is held at the Scan step until the condition is detected to be true. While monitoring the value of any expression offers considerable flexibility, it comes with two caveats. The condition is only checked at time advances, so it is possible that momentary (e.g., time zero) conditions can be missed and in fact, the condition itself will not be recognized until a time advance. The second caveat is that monitoring an expression is slower than an event-based approach — in most models this will not be noticeable, but in some models it could cause a slower execution speed.

  • The Search step discussed earlier in this chapter can often be used as a companion to event-based logic. For example when an event of potential interest is triggered, you might search a set of candidates to determine appropriate action (if any).

10.5 Other Libraries and Resources

So far we have concentrated on just the Simio Standard Library – you might agree that there is plenty to learn on those 15 objects. But we also wanted to make you aware that there are many more possibilities to be explored - in particular the Flow Library and the Extras Library that are supplied by Simio. And going beyond that, the Shared Items user forum has many interesting items contributed by other users.

10.5.1 Flow Library

While everything in the Standard Library is primarily focused on modeling discrete entity movement, fluid and fluid-like behaviors can often be more accurately modeled using continuous or flow concepts. Typical applications include pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, mining, petrochemicals, and chemicals. In fact it is useful in any applications where you have steady or intermittent streams of materials flexibly flowing down networks of pipes (or conveyors), between mixers and tanks (or storage piles), and possibly filling and emptying of containers.

While a few other simulation products also have flow capability, Simio’s capability is comprehensive. And unlike most products, Simio’s flow and discrete modeling integrate seamlessly in a single model. You can see one indication of this by examining the physical characteristics of any entity – you will find that in addition to having a 3 dimensional physical size (e.g., a volume) discrete entities also have a density. This dual representation of an entity as either a discrete item (e.g., a barrel or a pile) or as a quantity of fluid or other mass (e.g., 100 liters of oil or 100 tons of coal) allows a discrete entity to arrive to a flow construct and start converting its volume to or from flow. It also allows assigning and tracking the attributes of entities representing material flow on a link or in a tank – for each component of a flow you can track attributes like product type, routing destination, and composition data. The Flow library includes the following objects:

  • FlowSource - May be used to represent an infinite source of flow of fluid or other mass of a specified entity type.

  • FlowSink - Destroys flow that has finished processing.

  • Tank - Represent a volume or weight capacity-constrained location for holding flow.

  • ContainerEntity - A moveable container (e.g. a barrel) for carrying flow entities representing quantities of fluids or mass.

  • Filler - A device to fill container entities.

    Emptier - A device to empty container entities.

  • ItemToFlowConverter - Converts discrete items to flow entities.

  • FlowToItemConverter - Converts flow entities to discrete items.

  • FlowNode - Regulates flow into or out of another object (such as a Tank object) or at a flow control point in a network of links.

  • FlowConnector - A direct, zero travel distance connection from one flow node location to another.

  • Pipe - A connection from one flow node location to another where flow travel time and pipeline volume is of significant interest.

To learn more about the Flow Library, we refer you to the Simio Help. In particular we recommend studying the SimBit FlowConcepts which contains eight models each of which illustrates a different aspect of the library.

10.5.2 Extras Library

The Extras library is designed as a supplement providing additional commonly encountered constructs. Many of these objects are composite objects which are built-up from collections of other objects. This provides benefits in that, when necessary, you can edit the graphics, behavior, or properties of the composite objects to meet the needs of your application.

The Extras library includes the following objects:

  • Bay - This describes a rectangular area (e.g. floor space) over which one or more bridge cranes can move. Each bay may be divided into multiple zones to prevent bridge collisions.

  • Crane - This represents a bridge or overhead crane. This composite object consists of the bridge itself, the cab that travels along the bridge, the lift that controls the vertical movement, and the “crane” end effector (the hook or grabbing device). The crane has similar characteristics to a vehicle (load, unload, dwell, initial node, and idle action) plus has acceleration and speed in all directions.

  • Robot - This represents a jointed robot that can pick up entities at one node and drop them at another node. This composite object consists of a fixed base that can rotate, a lower arm that moves in relation to the base, an upper arm that moves relative to the lower arm, and a hand or end-effector that is attached to the end of the upper arm. The robot has similar characteristics to a vehicle (load, unload, dwell, initial node, and idle action) plus has pitch and rate of change for all rotations.

  • Rack - The Rack is also a composite object that is comprised of the main rack, which is a fixed object representing the rack frame, and one or more associated shelves. The number of shelves that are owned by the rack, and the capacity of each shelf (i.e. the maximum number of entities that can be stored on the shelf) are two important properties of the rack.

  • LiftTruck - The Lift Truck is a composite object comprised of a vehicle and an associated lift device. The Lift Truck moves its associated lift device up and down to the appropriate shelf height when placing and removing entities onto and off of a shelf. In addition to the normal vehicle properties, it has two additional properties that specify the vertical lift speed and the lift travel height.

  • Elevator - The Elevator is a transporter that moves up and down in the vertical direction and picks up and drops off entities at its associated Elevator Nodes.

  • ElevatorNode - Each Elevator Node represents a destination for a specific elevator and references its associated Elevator.

There are several SimBits that demonstrate the use of the Extras Library objects – to find them, simply open the Support Ribbon, click on Sample SimBitSolutions, and enter Extras Library in the search box. There is also an example model (EngineRepairUsingExtrasLibrary) that demonstrates the use of the library.

10.5.3 Shared Items Forum

The Shared Items user forum is a place where users can post and exchange objects, models, libraries, path decorators, textures, symbols, custom API code, documentation, or anything else others might find useful. You can find a link to this forum on the Support Ribbon. Many useful items can be found here and the content is always changing. This section provides a brief overview. Here are a couple of the libraries found there:

  • The Cranes Library not only handles normal bridge cranes very well (like the Cranes object in the Extras Library), but also models Underhung Cranes which allow crane cabs to move between crane bridges and essentially form transportation networks on the ceiling.

  • The Transportation Library includes objects for modeling multi-car trains, a tanker object for bulk fluid transport, and other objects.

There are also many useful objects that can be found in this forum including:

  • Vehicle with Driver - A movable object carrying a movable object transporting an entity.

  • Conveyor Transfer Device - Connect three conveyors to support optional entity direction change.

  • Combiner without Parent - To combine identical entities without using the “parent” paradigm.

  • And many more.

This forum also contains many addins, macros, and useful features. Here are just a few examples:

  • Import Objects from a Spreadsheet - An add-in to import a model (objects, links, and more) from a spreadsheet.

  • Import Experiment from CSV File

  • Save Step - Automatically saves your model each time just before you run.

  • Simio Quick Reference Card - Summarizes the key points that user needs while building a new model.

We encourage you to browse this content for things you may use and post your own content here to help the user community.

10.6 Experimentation

Let’s return to the topic of experimentation that we introduced in Section 4.2.3. By now, you can fully appreciate the value of running multiple replications to get a statistically valid answer and the value of running multiple scenarios in a search for the best solution. And in Chapter 9 we studied how OptQuest can help us find the best alternative from a large number of scenarios. Unfortunately one aspect these all have in common is the need to run many replications. If your replications require 1 second each and you need 100 replications, getting your results in less than 2 minutes isn’t too bad. But we recently had an application that required at least 5 replications for each of 500 scenarios for each of 9 experiments. At about 2.5 minutes per replication this called for over 900 hours of processor time. Waiting over a month for the runs to process sequentially is probably unacceptable. While this is a particularly large problem, large real projects often encounter similar situations. In this section we will discuss how to deal with such high processing demand.

10.6.1 Parallel Processing

The good news is that most modern computers feature the capability to do at least limited parallel processing and all versions of Simio take advantage of that capability. So, for example, if you have a dual-threaded quad processor, a common configuration, your hardware will support up to 8 parallel “threads” of execution, which in Simio terms means that you can run up to 8 concurrent replications. Using this feature cuts the 900 hours down to only 113 hours, but that’s still a long time to wait.

If you are lucky enough to have 16 or more processors (somewhat uncommon as of this writing) Simio will run up to 16 parallel replications on your machine. The higher editions of Simio (Professional and RPS) also support the ability to Distribute Runs to other computers in your local network (see Experiment Properties \(\rightarrow\) Advanced Options \(\rightarrow\) Distribute Runs for details). If you are fortunate enough that either of these choices is available to you, by executing up to 16 parallel replications we can now generate results in around 60 hours – still a long time, but a bit more reasonable.

If you have access to a server farm or many computers in your local network, Simio also licenses the ability to do any number of concurrent replications. So, for example if you license the ability to run an extra 100 processors (bringing your total to 116) then you might generate results to that 900 hour problem in less than 8 hours.

10.6.2 Cloud Processing

You might be saying to yourself “But I only have my quad processor machine and I can’t wait 900/4=225 hours for the results.” We’ve all heard of “the cloud” and most of us have probably used applications in the cloud whether we know it or not. Simio has such an offering called Simio Portal Edition. Unfortunately it is priced for the commercial market and as of this writing there is not yet an academic product. Simio Portal allows you to upload your model to the cloud, then configure and execute the experiments you want to run, all using cloud resources. And while there are some practical limitations, in theory you can run all of the required replications in our above problem in a little more than the time it takes to run one replication (e.g., 2.5 minutes). Now before you get too excited, real world practicalities may intrude and it may still require perhaps an hour to generate all of your results. But that is still a pretty fast turn-around for 900 hours of processing time.

10.7 AI and Neural Networks

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a broad topic that generally refers to the use of computer technology to enable a system to think like humans in areas like pattern recognition, problem-solving, and learning. AI is often used to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. A popular branch of AI is Machine learning which is focused on building applications that learn from data and improve their accuracy over time without being reprogrammed. In this section we will explore how AI and simulation can work together and in particular how it can be used to help your model learn to make better decisions.

As you know, Simio is based on the concept of using intelligent objects, where object intelligence is created using decision logic. When this capability is applied to entity objects (a.k.a. Agents) it forms the basis of Agent-based Modeling (ABM). By making the agents intelligently interact with the system and each other, you can avoid hardcoding the system itself with expected behavior. Then the system behavior emerges from the interaction of the autonomous intelligent objects (such as people in a stadium, firms in a market, or infected individuals in an epidemic).

Modelers can embed decision logic into other Simio objects like Servers and Nodes. These are often used for selecting jobs, resources, etc., that provide intelligent behavior and help predict future performance. Simio has sophisticated built-in rules in many locations. One example is the list of standard dispatching rules in the Transfer nodes (See Figure 10.12). In addition to the built-in rules users can create custom rules with process logic, or advanced users might use the add-in structure to create new rules in .NET and add them to Simio. Such rule-based models are a type of rule-based AI.

Example of some of the dispatching rules built into Simio Transfer nodes.

Figure 10.12: Example of some of the dispatching rules built into Simio Transfer nodes.

Defining the custom logic for rules can be difficult. Consider selecting between two lines in a factory, where each line consists of a dozen workstations in sequence, and we would like to select the line that can complete the job the soonest (i.e., smallest make span). Factors that influence make span include status of downstream workstations, where the amount and type of work at each workstation impacts the completion time. The downstream workstations along each line might have sequence dependent setup times as well as work in progress, all impacting the decision regarding which line can complete the job the soonest. Knowing how to consider all these factors and construct the rule to select the best line is difficult. We will next discuss a component of AI that can help.

10.7.1 Neural Networks

A Neural Network (or Artificial Neural Network or ANN) is a component of AI that has inputs, and outputs that are generated from the inputs. Using neural networks, it is possible to bypass the whole process of building complex logic, and have the logic be automatically created for us by the simulation model. We add a neural network to the model to make the decisions for us, and then we train the neural network using simulation data so that over time the model steadily improves at making the correct decision. Hence, we not only avoid having to build the complex logic into the model, but also have a rule that is self-learning and improves over time. The incorporation of neural networks into simulation is a potential game changer in applications with complex decision logic. So, let us examine neural networks and how they are incorporated into Simio for complex decision making.

So, let’s explore neural networks a little deeper. We will describe the standard feed-forward neural network, but there are other variations with special applications. In simple terms, a neural network maps a set of numeric inputs into a set of one or more outputs. In its most basic form, we have a single node called a Perceptron (also called a neuron), with a set of inputs, \(X\)’s, a weight \(w\) assigned to each input, a bias assigned to the node, an activation function, \(F( )\), on the node, and a single output, \(Y\), that is computed from the inputs, weights, bias, and activation function. The output is a predicted value that the Perceptron is making based on the current set of inputs. Figure 10.13 shows a Perceptron with three inputs.

Perceptron with three inputs.

Figure 10.13: Perceptron with three inputs.

The predicted value Y is calculated as \(F(w1*X1 + w2*X2 + w3*X3 + Bias)\), where F can be any function (e.g., square root). In words, we sum the weighted inputs, add the bias, and apply the activation function to get the predicted value.

To apply this model, we need to determine the values for the weights and the bias so that the Perceptron generates the correct predicted value. For example, if we are using the Perceptron to predict the selling price of a house based on the square footage of the property, number of rooms in the house, and the year it was built, we select the weights and bias to produce a predicted selling price that closely matches actual selling prices. To do this we go through a process referred to as training the model, where we take historical data with the specified inputs and selling price and apply a training algorithm that calculates the weights and biases that minimizes the error between predicted and actual selling price. The quality of our prediction engine is therefore heavily influenced by the quality of our training data.

Note that training a Perceptron is similar in concept to computing the coefficients when fitting a linear regression model. In fact, training a neural network model is sometimes referred to as fitting the model, and the process of predicting a value is referred to as regression. However, neural networks are much more powerful prediction engines than simple linear regression models because of their ability to capture non-linearities and multi-layer inferences. A neural network builds on the basic concept of a Perceptron by combining multiple neurons into a layered network, comprised of an input layer, one or more hidden layers, and an output layer as illustrated in Figure 10.14.

Sample neural network.

Figure 10.14: Sample neural network.

The neurons in the input layer (as the name suggests) define the input data for the prediction engine. The hidden layers are typically most of neurons in the network and provide the core non-linear data manipulation to get the desired predicted values. A network with at least two hidden layers is referred to as a Deep Neural Network (DNN).

The output layer provides the final predicted values. If we are using the neural network for regression (i.e., predict a single value) then there is only one output node. However, often the output neurons each represent an object (e.g., an image to be classified as a dog, cat, horse, or cow), and the predicted value for each neuron is the probability that it is the object.

There have been many recent successful applications of DNN’s. Examples include Apple Siri for recognizing and responding to voice request, and image processing in Tesla self-driving cars. However, one of the big challenges in the application of DNN’s is having sufficient high-quality training data to train the DNN. This is where the merger of simulation and AI shows great promise since a high-fidelity simulation model can generate unlimited amounts of synthetic training data for the DNN.

Let us now return to our previous example of using a DNN to select between two candidate production lines and discuss the problem of training our DNN based on simulation generated data. In this example we use our DNN to predict the make span for each candidate production line and select the line with the smallest make span. At the time we make this selection we record the DNN input values that were used to predict the make span. Within our model the entity continues down the selected production line, and then at the end of the line we tally the actual make span. The DNN input values and the model-based actual value are then saved off as training data for our DNN.

Model generated synthetic training data is the key to unlocking the concept of self-trained DNN’s for decision logic within a simulation model. However, the process of saving off the DNN input values, matching them up with the recorded actual value, and then writing these values off as training data can be tedious. For that reason, the recent focus for incorporating neural networks in Simio has been on automating the recording of training data and its use in self-training Simio models.

As of this writing, you can use the techniques discussed above to add AI components to your models now, but it does require significant knowledge to do so. Simio expects that features will be added in late 2021 to make this much easier to do.

10.8 Summary

We started this chapter by discussing the Search step, a powerful mechanism for selecting from sets of objects or table items. Then we discussed Balking and Reneging, to make it easy to bypass, or remove an entity from processing at a station. Then we introduced the concept of Task Sequences which lets you implement very flexible parallel or serial sub-tasks in a Server-type object. The discussion of event-based decision logic provides yet another set of tools for controlling the processing logic.

We also briefly explored the Flow and Extras libraries that are provided by Simio to cover many more areas that cannot be easily modeled with the Standard Library. And we looked at the Shared Items forum for some useful user-provided objects and tools. After exploring some important considerations when doing experimentation, we briefly explored the emerging area of combining AI and Neural Networks with simulation. In Chapter 11 we will discuss how you can create your own custom rules, objects, and libraries.

10.9 Problems

  1. Create a CONWIP (CONstant Work In Process) system of 3 sequential servers each with capacity 2, with all times and buffer capacities at their default values. We want to limit WIP to a constant value of 8 – we don’t care where the 8 entities are in the system, but there should always be exactly 8. Illustrate the desired behavior with statistics that show the average and maximum number of entities in the system.

  2. Consider the system illustrated in Figure 10.15. Entities enter at each source with an interarrival time of exponential 2.5 minutes. Entities take a uniform distribution between 1 and 3 minutes to travel to BasicNode1 and exponential 1 minute to travel to BasicNode2. Each entity takes exactly 1 minute to travel from its respective basic node to the combiner. Entities should arrive at the combiner completely synchronized so they never wait at the combiner (where each parent is combined with any single member). Add process logic for the basic nodes using events to force the lead entity to wait for the trailing entity.

Homework problem 2, synchronized system.

Figure 10.15: Homework problem 2, synchronized system.

  1. Enhance problem 2 so that every entity has an order number and each source creates entities with sequential order numbers starting at 1. We now want to combine only like order numbers, so we must now synchronize entities with identical order numbers at the basic nodes and only release pairs together.

  2. Consider a manufacturing system illustrated in Figure 10.16 where parts arrive to Receiving approximately 8 minutes apart, are moved by an overhead crane to Grinding, which requires 3-7 minutes. After leaving Grinding, 80% of the time it is moved by crane to shipping, the other 20% of the time it moves by crane to Rework. Parts leaving Rework always return by crane to Grinding. The single overhead crane normally parks near Receiving when idle. It has a load and unload time of 1.0 minute, and a lateral movement speed of 1.0 meters per second. Run the model for five 24-hour days and determine the expected utilization of the crane and the machines.

Homework problem 4, crane system.

Figure 10.16: Homework problem 4, crane system.

  1. Assume that we want to increase production in the system described in problem 4. If we add a second identical crane to be parked at the opposite end when idle, and add a second unit of Grinding capacity, what is a reasonable receiving rate that could be supported? What changes would you suggest to increase that throughput?

  2. Model a small clinic where the entrance/exit is on the first floor but the doctors office (3 doctors) is on the second floor. Patients arrive at a rate of approximately 30 per hour throughout the 8 hour day. A bank of two elevators each with a capacity of 4 people carries passengers between floors. The patients see one of the doctors for between 3 to 7 minutes, then travel back to the first floor exit. Use the Elevator objects from the Extras library to help model this.