Ali Gharbi

Virtual reality enables us to project, forecast, and plan

May 13, 2015
Ali Gharbi, a professor in the
Department of Automated Manufacturing Engineering.
Randomness is the Achilles’ heel of planning, and accidental occurrences often throw projections out of whack. However, by predicting randomness in manufacturing systems, we can achieve major productivity gains and substantial savings.

Ali Gharbi, a professor in the Department of Automated Manufacturing Engineering, specializes in manufacturing system design and control. No one knows better than he does that planning’s greatest challenge is to take the unforeseeable into account. Systems that are outstanding on paper often fail in real life. To design production environments, assess system performance and increase productivity, Professor Gharbi uses simulations that allow the accurate representation of the dynamic and stochastic behaviours of manufacturing systems.

Improving simulations is the key to better planning

His simulation tool replicates a manufacturing system as a whole for a given period. He compresses time, thereby revealing in just a few minutes events that take place over a long period, say a year, without disregarding any occurrence in the system, including breakages, downtime, employee absenteeism, stock-outs, production-line problems, fluctuations in order intake, and other factors. Thanks to this type of simulation, managers can make more informed decisions like never before.

Optimizing inventory levels

Professor Gharbi also uses simulation to address a thorny issue: what is the optimal inventory level for a given manufacturing system? Production output serves two purposes: part of it is used to fulfil orders and the rest is placed in reserve to meet a variety of contingencies, for example, machine breakdowns. In such cases, merchandise held in inventory can be used to meet demand. But inventory is not a silver bullet – it is expensive and has its share of drawbacks. That is why it is important to strike a balance between inventory levels, order-fulfilment, and production capacity and the many random variables that have a critical impact on the manufacturing process.

In addition to being an able juggler of statistical concepts, Ali Gharbi is a skilled dribbler – so much so that he was tempted to become a professional soccer player. And while medicine was also an attractive proposition, in the end he was seduced by mathematics. Today, he is still under its spell – and that’s no simulation!

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