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Operations research

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 one form of applied mathematics.

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, 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 tools, OR techniques cannot solve problems by themselves.

Table of contents

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
  • 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

Professional Societies

The International Federation of Operational Research Societies (IFORS, http://www.ifors.org/) is an umbrella organization for operations research societies worldwide. Significant among these are the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS, http://www.informs.org/) and the Operational Research Society (http://www.orsoc.org.uk/).

Origins and the name

Although foundations were laid earlier, the field of operations research as we know it arose during World War II, as military planners in the United Kingdom (including Patrick Blackett[?] and Frank Yates) and in the United States looked for ways to make better decisions. After the war it began to be applied to similar problems in industry.

It is known as "operational research" in the United Kingdom and as "operations research" in most other English-speaking countries, though OR is a common abbreviation everywhere. The name is somewhat unfortunate, since OR is no longer concerned only with operations, nor does its application involve any research in the traditional sense (though OR research is still carried out to find new or better techniques).

See also

Other links

A comprehensive set of OR links is located at the INFORMS OR/MS Resource Collection: http://www.informs.org/Resources/



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