The doctoral dissertations of the former Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) and Aalto University Schools of Technology (CHEM, ELEC, ENG, SCI) published in electronic format are available in the electronic publications archive of Aalto University - Aaltodoc.

An Extended Process Automation System: An Approach Based on a Multi-Agent System

Ilkka Seilonen

Dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Science in Technology to be presented with due permission of the Department of Automation and Systems Technology for public examination and debate in Auditorium AS1 at Helsinki University of Technology (Espoo, Finland) on the 10th of February, 2006, at 12 noon.

Dissertation in PDF format (ISBN 951-22-7977-0)   [925 KB]
Errata (in PDF format)
Dissertation is also available in print (ISBN 951-22-7976-2)


This thesis describes studies on application of multi-agent systems (acronym: MAS) to enhance process automation systems. A specification of an extended process automation system is presented. According to this specification, MAS can be used to extend the functionality of ordinary process automation systems at higher levels of control. Anticipated benefits of the specification include enhanced reconfigurability, responsiveness and flexibility properties of process automation.

Previous research concerning applications of MAS in process automation has been more limited than in other fields of automation. There has been more research about this topic for example in the area of discrete manufacturing. As goal-oriented distributed systems with coordination capabilities MAS have been found applicable to a part of automation functions, e.g. modification of control logic in abnormal situations. However, when applying MAS to process automation the particular characteristics of this application domain need to be taken into account. The important role of continuous control in process automation needs to be considered.

In this thesis, a specification of an agent platform for process automation is presented as a basis for applying MAS in this application domain. The specification extends a FIPA-compliant agent platform with process automation specific functionality. It utilises a hierarchical agent organisation, a BDI-agent model and qualitative reasoning. It also presents a model for programming MAS applications for process automation with techniques of distributed planning and search. Two applications are specified using the platform. One of these shows how the techniques of distributed planning can be applied in sequential control. The other provides a design model for supervisory continuous control applications using the techniques of distributed search. Experiments performed with a laboratory test environment using prototype implementations of the applications are presented. The experiments are able to demonstrate the feasibility of the approach in limited test scenarios. They also provide information about in which ways MAS techniques are able enhance the properties of process automation.

As a result of the work presented in this thesis more knowledge has been gained about application of MAS in process automation. The specification of the agent platform for process automation and its applications provide a basis for further studies of this topic.

Keywords: process automation, multi-agent system, agent platform, BDI-model, distributed planning, distributed search

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© 2006 Helsinki University of Technology

Last update 2011-05-26