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Operations research, operational research, or simply OR, is the use of mathematical models, statistics, and algorithms to aid in decision-making. It is most often used to analyze complex real-world systems, typically with the goal of improving or optimizing performance. It is a subfield of applied mathematics.
Operations research in context
The terms operations research and management science are often used synonymously. When a distinction is drawn, management science generally implies a closer relationship to the problems of business management.
Operations research also closely relates to industrial engineering. Industrial engineering takes more of an engineering point of view, and industrial engineers typically consider OR techniques to be a major part of their toolset.
Some of the primary tools used by operations researchers are statistics, optimization, stochastics, queueing theory, game theory, graph theory, and simulation. Because of the computational nature of these fields OR also has ties to computer science, and operations researchers regularly use custom-written or off-the-shelf software.
Operations research is distinguished by its ability to look at and improve an entire system, rather than concentrating only on specific elements (though this is often done as well). An operations researcher faced with a new problem is expected to determine which techniques are most appropriate given the nature of the system, the goals for improvement, and constraints on time and computing power. For this and other reasons, the human element of OR is vital. Like any other tools, OR techniques cannot solve problems by themselves.
Areas of application
A few examples of applications in which operations research is currently used include the following:
- designing the layout of a factory for efficient flow of materials
- constructing a telecommunications network at low cost while still guaranteeing quality service if particular connections become very busy or get damaged
- road traffic management and 'one way' street allocations i.e allocation problems.
- determining the routes of school buses so that as few buses are needed as possible
- designing the layout of a computer chip to reduce manufacturing time (therefore reducing cost)
- managing the flow of raw materials and products in a supply chain based on uncertain demand for the finished products
- managing freight transportation and delivery systems (Examples: LTL Shipping, intermodal freight transport)
- personnel staffing
- manufacturing steps
- project tasks
- network data traffici.e queing models or queing system.
- sports events and their television coverage
- blending of raw materials in oil refineries
The International Federation of Operational Research Societies (IFORS) is an umbrella organization for operations research societies worldwide. Significant among these are the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) and the Operational Research Society (ORS). EURO is the association of European Operational Research Societies (EURO). CORS is the Canadian Operations Research Society (CORS). ASOR is the Australian Society for Operations Research (ASOR). MORS is the Military Operations Research Society (MORS)--based in the United States since 1966 with the objective of enhancing the quality and usefulness of military operations research analysis in support of defense decisions. ORSNZ is the Operations Research Society of New Zealand (ORSNZ). ORSP is the Operations Research Society of the Philippines.
In 2004, INFORMS began an initiative to better market the OR profession, including a website entitled The Science of Better, which provides an introduction to OR and examples of successful applications of OR to industrial problems.
Origins and the name
Although foundations were laid earlier, the field of operations research as we know it arose during World War II, as scientists in the United Kingdom (including Patrick Blackett, Cecil Gordon, C. H. Waddington, and Frank Yates) and in the United States looked for ways to make better decisions in such areas as logistics and training schedules. After the war it began to be applied to similar problems in industry.
It is known as "operational research" in the United Kingdom ("operational analysis" within the UK military and Ministry of Defence, where OR stands for "operational requirements") and as "operations research" in most other English-speaking countries, though OR is a common abbreviation everywhere. With expanded techniques and growing awareness, OR is no longer limited to only operations, and the proliferation of computer data collection has relieved analysts of much of the more mundane research. But the OR analyst must still know how a system operates, and learn to perform even more sophisticated research than ever before. In every sense the name OR still applies, more than a half century later.
Blackett's team made a number of crucial analyses which aided the war effort. Britain introduced the convoy system to reduce shipping losses, but while the principle of using warships to accompany merchant ships was generally accepted, it was unclear whether it was better for convoys to be small or large. Convoys travel at the speed of the slowest member, so small convoys can travel faster. It was also argued that small convoys would be harder for German U-boats to detect. On the other hand, large convoys could deploy more warships against an attacker and also the proportion of merchant ships sunk by a U-boat would be lower. Blackett's staff clearly showed that:[How to reference and link to summary or text]
- Large convoys were more efficient
- The probability of detection by U-boat was statistically unrelated to the size of the convoy
- Slow convoys were at greater risk (though considered overall, large convoys were still to be preferred)
In another piece of work, Blackett's team analysed a report of a survey carried out by RAF Bomber Command.[How to reference and link to summary or text] For the survey, Bomber Command inspected all bombers returning from bombing raids over Germany over a particular period. All damage inflicted by German air defenses was noted and the recommendation was given that armour be added in the most heavily damaged areas. Their suggestion that to minimise casualties that some of the crew should be removed, so that an aircraft loss would result in fewer RAF personnel being lost, was rejected by RAF command.
Blackett's team instead made the surprising and counter-intuitive recommendation that the armour be placed in the areas which were completely untouched by damage, according to the survey. They reasoned that the survey was biased, since it only included aircraft that successfully came back from Germany. The untouched areas were probably vital areas, which if hit would result in the loss of the aircraft.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
When the Germans organised their air defences into the Kammhuber Line, it was realised that if the RAF bombers were to fly in a bomber stream they could overwhelm the night fighters who flew in individual cells directed to their targets by ground controllers. It was then a matter of calculating the statistical loss from collisions against the statistical loss from night fighters to calculate how close the bombers should fly to minimise RAF losses.
Operational Research journals
The European Journal of Operational Research (EJOR) was founded in 1975 and is presently by far the largest Operational Research journal in the world with its around 9,000 pages of published papers per year. In 2004, its total number of cites was the second largest amongst Operational Research and Management Science journals.
The Journal of The Operational Research Society (JORS) is an official journal of the OR Society.
INFOR Journal is published and sponsored by the Canadian Operational Research Society.
- Hillier, Frederick S. and Lieberman, Gerald J. "Introduction to Operations Research", McGraw-Hill : Boston MA. Eight edition. International edition. (2005)
- Anthony Stafford Beer
- George Dantzig
- Management Science
- Systems thinking and -analysis
- Linear programming
- Managerial economics
- Assignment problem
- Optimal Maintenance
- Stochastic processes
- Morphological analysis
- INFORMS OR/MS Resource Collection (a comprehensive set of OR links)
- Operations Research: The Science of Better (marketing initiative by INFORMS)
- Mastering Simulation: Online Course
- Operation everything "A primer on the most influential academic discipline you've never heard of" by Virginia Postrel.
- Operations Management Research Methods Weblog
- (pdf) - General Morphological Analysis: A General Method for Non-Quantified Modelling From the Swedish Morphological Society
- Operations Research Resources From Archer Tool
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