A co-evolutionary multi-agent approach for designing the architecture of reconfigurable manufacturing machines
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Manufacturing companies today face increasingly uncertain and volatile market demands. Product designs and the required quantities change rapidly to meet the needs of customers. To maintain competitiveness in this uncertain environment, manufacturing companies need to possess agility to dynamically and effectively adapt to the changing environment. Agility at the machine level can be thought of as the ability to reconfigure manufacturing machines in response to changing needs and opportunities. This thesis is concerned with a design method for machine level agility for reconfigurable manufacturing machines. This thesis is divided into two portions: a design approach for reconfigurable manufacturing machines and the embodiment of this approach in a computational synthesis example. In developing this design method, various approaches and reconfigurable systems are presented to develop an overview of the applications and current related research to reconfigurable manufacturing machines. From this related research, a research gap is identified pertaining to the identification of the evolving architecture of reconfigurable manufacturing machines. The key contribution is the design approach based on co-evolution. This design approach involves the implementation of agent based co-evolutionary algorithms. In this implementation, each agent synthesizes the configuration of a machine for a product in the range of products it is to manufacture and co-evolves with other agents which are synthesizing machines for other products to reduce the reconfiguration cost. Finally, an in-depth case study of the design approach is presented in which the approach is tested relative to various product changes; thus, showing the advantages of employing an evolving reconfigurable machine architecture. These product changes include batch size variations, geometry changes, and material changes. Hence, the core objective is to identify the necessary reconfigurable manufacturing machine architecture for the range of configurations required for machining various products.