Real-World Simulation Examples for Student Learning


Prof Hassan Rajaei Ph.D. – Bowling Green State University; Department of Computer Science


Simulation is a powerful tool for teaching students about the techniques as well as providing deeper understanding of courses such as networking, operating systems, operational research, just to name a few. Simulation is a well-known technique for evaluating what-if scenarios and decision making in industry, defense, finance, and many others. Students quickly realize these values and want to learn how to master this technique.

Teaching simulation techniques often requires attractive problem assignments. Real-world has numerous examples that excite students to study and motivate them focusing on their learning objectives. Further, it challenges them to develop models to reflect the reality. Clear examples can teach students how to collect data, develop the base model, improve it to advanced models, analyze the obtained results, and think about the usability of their simulation results. These learning outcomes can clearly demonstrate valuable educational objectives.

A simulation tool like ProModel has numerous example models in its library, but the educational objectives can be best achieved through step-by-step experimental development of useful samples. ProModel can be a great help by exploring the details of similar examples.

This article, presents an example where a group of students developed a simulation model for the Bowling Green State University (BGSU) Students Union Cafeteria. Managing a university dining hall often exhibits challenges for the food services located in it. This study focused on reducing the average waiting time of the diners, while increasing overall efficiency of the services.

Simulating the Nest Cafeteria

This project focused on finding solutions for the Falcon’s Nest Cafeteria to increase the efficiency and decrease the average time of the customer spent in the system.

Overview of the Nest: Students cafeteria at BGSU functions as an important part of the University’s dining service. This cafeteria serves thousands of students every day. During the rush-hours of lunch and dinner, this place gets really congested with long queues contributing to long waiting times. In this simulation, the Nest model consists of five main components: Customers, Servers, Locations, Queues, and Cashiers.

Using ProModel: This tool was selected for multiple reasons: a) the availability; b) the course used the tool and trained students; c) the tool supports discrete-event systems; d) large number of library models; e) statistical analysis and output results; f) animations.

Problems Encountered: The main problem faced was lack of statistics and accurate information. Other barriers included project time limit and lack of deeper familiarity of ProModel.

Possible Solutions: Based on primary analysis, two potential solutions were feasible:

1) Increase the attractiveness of other food stations which have lower waiting time;

2) Increase number of food servers.

Three approaches to reach the goals:

a) Ask the SME to provide all data and statistics;

b) Make a very detailed model over the actual system;

c) Combination of (a) & (b) methods.

Approach c was adopted for the study.

Simulation Models

Four models were developed: 1) base, 2) intermediate, 3) advanced, 4) final

Base Model: The base model had very basic setups with one food station and one cashier. The objective was to test the station service and the customers’ arrival, and their flow in the system.

Intermediate Model: All food stations were added according to the Nest along with the logic for entities to move through the system with a shared queue.

 Advanced Model: The advanced model includes all queues targeting to obtain realistic statistics using several scenarios (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1:  The Advanced Model improved from the intermediate one

Final Model: After developing three scenarios, obtaining good confidence, making sure they were on the right track, students moved towards developing the final model shown in Figure 2. It was implemented using a time schedule to simulate the rush hour and normal operating hours.

Figure 2

Figure 2:  Final simulation model for the Falcon’s Nest Cafeteria

Results and Analysis

In this simulation, students first aimed to find an ideal solution to demonstrate how to reduce the waiting time. It turned out that such a scenario would need more implementation time. Instead, students focused on two solutions:

1) To make other food stations more attractive;

2) Adding additional workers to the top three food stations. Test cases were developed for each solution.

The result shown in Figure 3 demonstrate a reduction in the average time compared to the baseline, except Case 3. The figure suggests an 11.1% decrease in average time spent in the Nest.

Figure 3

Figure 3: Solution 1 demonstrating reduction of Average Time in the system

Next method focused on improving the waiting time by adding food runners to 3 populated stations. This method was simulated and tested with 4 scenarios, and was compared with the baseline.

Figure 4

Figure 4: Solution 2, advocating one additional worker at each food station

As was expected, by adding a food-runner to each station the average time of the customers would decrease, however, certain stations would benefit most. If case 4 is adopted, there would be a 12.6% reduction in time spent by customers. If only 1 food runner is added, then the result yields only to 6.1% decrease in average time spent in the system by customers.

Concluding Remarks

This article presents an example of a real-world case study conducted by a group of students as a term project in a simulation techniques course shared by senior undergraduate students as well as graduate students. An important result of this study demonstrates how deeply the students were engaged in their learning objectives of the course. In a short period of time, they conducted a complete case study including: observation, gathering data, analyzing the problem at hand, developing models, confirming with the subject matter expert, documenting, and delivering the results. The full article is published in ASEE 2017 Annual Conference.

Professor Hassan Rajaei Ph.D.  

Hassan Rajaei is a Professor of Computer Science at Bowling Green State University, Ohio.  His research interests include Distributed Systems & IoT, Cloud Computing, High Performance Computing (HPC), Computer Simulation, Distributed Simulation, with applications focus on communications & wireless networks. Dr. Rajaei has been active in simulation conferences (e.g. SCS SprintSim, WSC) as organizer as well as research contributor. Dr. Rajaei received his Ph.D. from Royal Institute of Technologies, KTH, Stockholm, Sweden and he holds a MSEE from Univ. of Utah.

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