Automatic Systems for Facilities Operations

Technical Applications


Automated systems for facilities operations are systems that track and adjust resource usage as needed. There are two specific types of technologies under discussion here. One is the automatic ability to monitor and adjust the operating environment in the building. The other is the ability to use automation to control inventories and materials flow during the production process.


Computer controlled management systems for heating, cooling, ventilation and lighting can provide a better environment for human activities at much lower energy consumption and dollar cost than conventional manual controls. "Smart buildings" that offer real-time information about energy usage and costs also allow building owners and tenants to become more energy efficient. Building automation systems are an important part of the physical infrastructure of the future, leading to many changes in the way buildings are designed and built. Automated systems will allow more precise control of environments which will reduce wasteful use of resources, providing important competitive benefits to U.S. firms. It will have a similar effect on other kinds of facilities. Defense manufacturing facilities are likely to benefit in the same way as civilian manufacturing facilities.


Automated monitoring and control of the production cycle, especially of parts flow and inventory, is improving the efficiency and productivity of U.S. industry. Computers that track inventory levels and automatically originate purchase requests when inventories reach pre-specified levels allow a more efficient use of inventories and more efficient production of parts and sub-assemblies. Automated scheduling allows for a better loading of production equipment and more efficient production schedules. However, many of these systems are not yet linked in a meaningful way with CAD, CAE, and financial systems of companies.


Japan and Europe lag the United States in computer controlled management systems for production flow. For example, advanced systems such as Materials Requirements Planning (MRP) and Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP II) are computerized manufacturing control and support systems that plan and execute production by matching inventory and materials needs. By tracking availability vs. factory need and automatically originating purchase requests, production is kept moving on a predetermined schedule. Because these technologies are software-intensive, Japanese firms have not yet made large inroads in these areas. Rather, Japanese manufacturing depends more on Just-in-Time and other manufacturing practices that are less software-intensive, but highly effective in dealing with material and production flows. For the most part, Europe is not limited by software capabilities and is pursuing production flow technologies similar to those in the United States.