A study of the operator assignment problem in powder-coating processing using simulation optimization

Taho Yang, Mei Chuan Wang, Yiyo Kuo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The main operations of the powder-coating process are staggered along a closed-loop conveyor. Given the volatile market demands, using a fixed level of staffing may result in significant productivity losses. The present study aims to capture stochastic behavior and optimize operator assignment problems in a practical powder-coating process. By using the proposed methodology, when demand changes, the optimal operator assignment configuration can be provided, ensuring high labor productivity. Design/methodology/approach: The powder-coating process is an important industrial application and is often a labor-intensive system. The present study adopts a practical case to optimize its staffing level. Because of its operational complexity, the problem is solved by a proposed simulation-optimization approach. The results are promising, and the proposed methodology is shown to be an effective approach. Findings: The proposed methodology was tested for various demand levels. The optimized operator assignment configuration always improves on the performance of other staffing levels. Given the same daily throughput, the optimized operator assignment configuration can improve performance by as much as 19%. In scenarios where there is increased demand, the resulting reduction in overtime work improves performance by between 20.33% and 56.72%. In scenarios where there is reduced demand, the optimized staffing level produces improvements between 3.13% and 50%. Compared with the fixed staffing policy of the case company, the flexible staffing policy of the proposed methodology can maintain high labor productivity across demand variations. The results are consistent with the Shojinka philosophy of the Toyota Production System. Originality/value: This study proposes a solution to the operator assignment decision in a labor-intensive manufacturing system – a powder-coating processing system. Powder coating provides a solid powder coating without any solvent. Because of its excellent application performance and environmental protection, it is widely used in the field of metal coating, especially appliances for offices and homes. Most of the existing literature has solved the problem by making unrealistic assumptions. The present study proposes a simulation-optimization method to solve a practical problem in powder-coating processing. The effectiveness of the proposed methodology is illustrated by a practical application. According to the experimental results, five operators can be saved for the same daily throughput. An average of 35 and 19 min of overtimes can be saved when demand increases by 10% and 20% with one less operator; between 2 and 16 operators can be saved when demand falls by 10%–60%.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)358-369
Number of pages12
JournalRobotic Intelligence and Automation
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Jun 23

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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