Operations Research

Operations research is a vast branch of mathematics which encompasses many diverse areas of minimization and optimization. Thousands of books have been written worldwide on the subject of operations research.

The central objective of operations research is optimization, i.e., "to do things best under the given circumstances." This general concept has great many applications, for instance, in agricultural planning, biotechnology, data analysis, distribution of goods and resources, emergency and rescue operations, engineering systems design, environmental management, financial planning, health care management, inventory control, manpower and resource allocation, manufacturing of goods, military operations, production process control, risk management, sequencing and scheduling of tasks, telecommunications, and traffic control.

Closely related disciplines (with significant overlaps among these) include decision analysis, systems analysis, management science, control theory, game theory, optimization theory, constraint logic programming, artificial intelligence, fuzzy decision-making, multi-criteria analysis, and so on. All these disciplines share the objective of improving a quantitative decision making procedure. The same comment applies to operations research-related business applications such as supply-chain management, enterprise resource planning, total quality management, just-in-time production and inventory management, and materials requirements planning.

Following the general optimization paradigm, when applying operations research, a decision-maker selects the key decision variables that will influence the overall quality of decisions. This quality is expressed by the objective function that is maximized (profit, product quality, speed of service or job completion, and so on), or minimized (cost, loss, risk of some undesirable event, etc.). In addition to the objective function, a set of (physical, technical, economic, environmental, legal, societal, etc.) constraints is also considered. Then, by systematically adjusting the values of all decision variables, a "good" (feasible) or "very best" (optimal) solution is selected. Of course, feasibility and optimality can only be defined in the context of the given problem (model) formulation.

See also

Global Optimization, Linear Programming, Nonlinear Programming, Optimization, Optimization Theory

This entry contributed by János Pintér (author's link)

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Operations Research

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Pintér, János. "Operations Research." From MathWorld--A Wolfram Web Resource, created by Eric W. Weisstein.

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