Applied Operations Research

Course objectives and method

The course is an advanced Operations Research course and aims at gaining insight in the applications of the different methods and techniques of Operations Research in practice. A collection of real-life cases will be discussed during the course, and a range of solution approaches will be highlighted. With the use of optimization software, the problems will be solved and the solution will be analyzed in a critical way. 
 
During the course, both theoretical and practical sessions will be given. The theoretical part focuses on the advantages and disadvantages of different optimization models. The practical part consists of a big case study that has to be solved in groups. The students have to analyze the case study and present solutions for the different subparts of the case. Feedback is given at intermediate steps and a final solution has to be presented in a written and oral way. A final private feedback session consists of an evaluation of the solution approach as well as the final solution. After the course, the students should be able to define the different steps that need to be taken for a consultancy project and they should be aware of the various pitfalls that pop up during the analysis of data and the development of a model.
 
Click on picture to download the book

Course material

Textbook: There is no textbook. The slides and the case material are bundled in a book "Applied Operations Research" by Academia Press. The Vlaamse Economische Kring (VEK) will distribute these books among all master students on certain predefined days (see their website).
 
Software: For Cases A to D, the students can use MS Solver to build the models. In case you don't know how it works, download my Solver tutorial here (it shows how to use MS Solver for the exercise you find below under "memory refresh"). For Case E, the student is expected to have a basic notion of C (and maybe C++) and hence needs to install a C-compiler. In the early days, when I was still running Windows, I used to program in MS Visual C++, which is a very good and simple C++ compiler. Nowadays, I work on a Mac, and I am a huge fan of XCode to write C++ programs.
 
Free book: A book on decision making is freely available. The book "From rich data to better solutions" can be downloaded from the OR-AS bookstore and serves as background material or a fresh up of Operations Research methods.

Downloads

Students who follows the course can download the following material:

Course schedule: You can also download the course schedule in PDF and Excel. This schedule is also available on your book of slides.

Intermediate progress reports: Two intermediate progress reports have to be made in order to evaluate your progress and put you back into the right direction in case you are lost. Empty example reports can be downloaded here, but anyone is free to use something else, as long as it is concise, to-the-point and highly relevant.

Case study tables: The IT people of case E have to use tables 17 and 20 for each department. Table 17 is the current cyclic schedule (which will of course change as a result of case D) and table 20 contains the preferences for the nurses for the four departments. Obviously, your shift system and cyclic schedule will probably change after solving cases C and D, and hence, the tables will need an update to fit into your new shift system, but in the maentime, you can use the current tables to work on your program. You can later adapt it based on the input of your group members. Download all the case tables here. In some cases, the number in the Excel tables might differ from the number in the tables printed in your slides bundle. In that case, use the excel numbers and not the ones in your bundle of slides.

Example C++ code: As promised, you can download an example template to read and write the output you need. Be careful with this code: it is not easy to understand someone else's code, but it might give you an idea which direction you have to take. Use it as illustrative for your own work or build further on it, it's up to you. Download the code here (download). If you are new to the C language, it might be difficult to write your first program. However, the syntax is so simple and easy to learn. A short yet excellent tutorial on C is available for download here.

Case E output: At the end of the case study, your team has to report files to the management team of the hospital showing the final schedules of the nurses for each department. To that purpose, your files have to be handed in following a strict predefined format. The formatting rules can be downloaded here: an "input example" (illustrative!) and your "input template" (use this one for submission!).

Memory refresh 

Before you start with this course, make sure you refresh your knowledge about Operations Research. Some links below can help you:

  • In the slides of the first session, some examples are mentioned (but not discussed in class). They are however good to practice. You can download the production example shown on the slides of session 1 here.
  • In my first session, I referred to a bundle of slides entitled "deterministic optimisation". I did not talk much about these slides, but I told you that you should refresh your memory and get to know the difference between deterministic and stochastic modelling. In case you forgot, I have uploaded a video here to discuss this difference. Beware that this video is not a video for your class, but an introduction to another course (at Vlerick Business School). The introduction is nevertheless interesting for you too in case you forgot what Operations Research really is.

Lecture casts

The lecture on staff scheduling of November 23, 2020, is now available as a lecture cast.

Need help?

In case you need help (how to download, how to read the excel file, ...), talk to me or to Jakob Snauwaert (email) or Rob Van Eynde (email).

Good luck!

Mario