Plant design and control in food service industry. A multi-disciplinary decision-support system

Authors: Alessandro Tufano, Riccardo Accorsi, Federica Garbellini, Riccardo Manzini 



Every day, thousands of pupils, students, employees, and hospital patients eat food outside their homes that is cooked far from the place of consumption. The food service industry is responsible for supplying this food to schools, hospitals, nurseries, as well as to company canteens. The design, control, and management of food service operations is challenging given the complexity of such multiple facility production networks and entails multidisciplinary perspectives and competences. Both production and logistics operations play crucial roles and significantly affect the service performance as long as food products are prepared within a facility, and as long as they are distributed to multiple consumption sites. Hence, there are many planning decisions (e.g. the definition of the production facility location, the allocation of task to resources and the scheduling of production jobs), that are handled at different stages by different actors, who often decide based on their own practical experience and barely adopt integrated decision-support systems.

A review of the literature shows that there is no integrated approach to support the design of food service production facilities, known as centralized kitchens (CEKIs). To facilitate such integration and assist food service managers to adopt quantitative and data-driven design approaches, this study proposes an original computer-based multidisciplinary decision-support tool for the design and configuration of a CEKI. The proposed tool aids decisions taken by multiple actors simultaneously through a set of interfaces driven by quantitative data that follow the logistical flow of materials throughout the CEKI (1), assesses performance indicators in a multidisciplinary dashboard (2), and implements what-if, multiple scenario analyses based on simulations (3). Graphical interfaces are designed to facilitate communication between the decision makers and the integration of data-driven analyses. The design of a new CEKI is used as a testbed for the decision-support tool. The real-world example highlights the interdependencies between issues and decisions and showcases how computer applications facilitate decision-making and improve communication between managers.