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Operations Research Models and Methods
Computation Section
Subunit Dynamic Programming Solver


To illustrate the DP Solver we use an example similar to the one used in the description of the Markov chain model. Now however, we will have two maintenance options.

We are concerned about the maintenance policy for light bulbs in a large lighted sign. The manager wants a policy that produces the smallest discounted net present worth for operating the sign.

The manager can inspect each bulb at the end of every month of its life at a cost of $0.50 per inspection. If the bulb is found to be failed, it is replaced at the beginning of the next month for a cost of $2.

Alternatively, the manager may simply replace the bulb without inspection based on its age. Non-failed bulbs may be discarded by this process, but the price of a new bulb is reduced by $0.30 if it is replaced by this alternative maintenance procedure. The cost reduction is due to the larger number of bulbs that will be purchased, resulting in economies of scale. The $0.50 inspection cost is not expended with the replace option.


The Situation with Inspection

With the inspection option, the state/transition diagram is shown below. The states are shown as the circles (or nodes) in the figure. The number in the node is the age of the bulb. A new bulb has the age 0 and the remaining ages are 1, 2, 3, and 4 months. The directed line segments (or arcs) are the transitions between states. The black arcs indicate aging of the bulb and the red arcs indicating the requirement of replacing the bulb when it is failed.

At the end of each month, the bulb is inspected. If the bulb is failed it is replaced at the beginning of the next month and the system moves to the New state. If the bulb survives, it becomes one month older. The transition probabilities show the effects of aging. The new bulb exhibits the "infant mortality" characteristic. Perhaps due to manufacturing defects, the probability that a new bulb fails during its first month is greater than the probability that a one month old bulb fails during its second month of life. As the bulb ages further, the probability of failure grows. In the fourth month, the likelihood of failure reaches its highest value. The bulb may survive beyond four months, but the probability of failure given that it survives after the fourth month remains constant.


The matrices below the network show the transition probabilities and state costs. In each state there are two probabilities, the probability that the bulb will fail and have to be replaced and the probability that the bulb will not fail and become one month older. The problem is limited to four months, so we assume that with a not-fail event at month 4 leaves the system in state 4.

At each age the bulb is inspected at the cost of $0.50. The cost of a new bulb, $2, is assigned to state New. Every time the system enters the New state a bulb is purchased.

The situation can be analyzed by the Markov Analysis add-in. The transition matrix is placed directly on the Matrix page of Markov chain model as below.



The economics of the situation are shown in the Economic Data worksheet. Note that we are using a discount rate of 1% per month.

  The steady state analysis shown below reveals interesting information regarding the bulb. Rounding values to the nearest whole percentages and nearest whole cents, we see that a new bulb is purchased in 43% of the months. The average cost of maintaining the bulb is $1.37 per month. Starting from the New state, the discounted cost (net present worth or NPW) using the interest rate of 1% per month is $138.90. The NPW is important in this context because it is the measure that will be minimized with the DP model.


Replacement, An Alternative to Inspection


Rather than inspect each month, we could adopt a policy of replacing the bulb without inspection. This is the replace action. For example, if we adopt the replace option for the new state, the bulb will be replaced at the end of the first month without inspection. A working bulb may be discarded by the replace option, but the inspection cost is not incurred. Also we assume that new bulbs will cost $0.30 less with the replace option, resulting a unit cost of $1.70. The transition network for this system is shown in the figure.

  With the replace option, regardless of the starting state, the system moves immediately to the new-bulb state and remains there. The first column of the Markov transition matrix is filled with the probability 1, while the other columns have all 0's. This trivial Markov Chain has a cost per period of $1.70. The expected NPW of this chain is 1.70 + (1.70/0.01) = $171.70. The replace option is clearly more expensive than the inspect option.


To Inspect or Not Inspect? That is the question.

  We might ask whether a mixed strategy is better than either always inspecting or always replacing. It may be that it is cheaper to inspect in some states and replace in others. This is the question addressed by the Markov Decision Process. We use the DP Solver to model and solve the problem on the next page, but show the results below. The optimum solution is to inspect when in states 0 through 2, and to replace in states 3 and 4.
  The NPW of this solution is 134.47, less expensive than the policy of inspecting at every state. State 4 is a transient state. Once the process leaves state 4 it will never return.

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Operations Research Models and Methods
by Paul A. Jensen
Copyright 2004 - All rights reserved

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