Project Content

Project Description

The main goal of the project is to discover new efficient approaches for factory and warehouse layout- and material flow planning using a biomimetic approach with experts from the fields of biology, biomimetics, business administration and engineering. The underlying idea is to investigate potential beneficial principles from nature within the mentioned area. The project is of scientific importance because although principles from nature are investigated in various scientific disciplines, there are only few publications within the combined topics logistics and biomimetics.

Layout planning is an Assignment Problem. The objective thereby is, that a set of n facilities has to be assigned to a set of n locations considering flow-intensity as well as the distance in order to minimize total expenditure. Living systems in nature are also confronted with logistical problems. These systems are often able to adapt to short and long term changes which is of ever increasing importance for factories as well. For example, we investigated the structures and growth processes of the nautilus shell (Nautilus macromphalus) and found out that these biological principles and structures help in enhancing the allocation of operational resources within factory layouts. Furthermore, we investigated input-output-processes in nature, especially the webs of orb-weaver spiders (Araneidae) to mimic the pattern for factory layouts. Some of the findings are presented on this website.

Bio-Inspired Factory Layouts

Blood Vessel-Inspired Factory Layout

Blood vessels form a circulatory system which transports blood throughout the human or animal body. In order to minimize energy consumption, the transport distances have to be minimized while every region of the body is supplied with blood. In nature this objective is achieved by a fractal branching pattern of the blood vessels.

This property was used for factory layout planning. Facilities with high material flows are located at "thicker" branches and vice versa. The arrangement of the cells was determined using the heuristic triangle method by Schmigalla. 

Liver-Inspired Factory Layout

Livers are composed of hexagonally shaped lobules. A central vein runs through the center of each lobule and transports oxygen-poor blood out of the liver. Oxygen-rich blood is supplied by hepatic arteries along each of the lobule's corners.

Starting from a facility arrangement obtained by employing the triangle method the facilities were placed inside hexagonal cells which represent liver lobules. Analogous to the biological equivalent the material outflow takes place at the center of a cell while the material inflow takes place at one or several corners of the cell. The transport between different cells is located at a separate level allowing for a straight transport route. In the frequent case of intracellular transports a transition to the transport level is not required.
The liver-inspired approach has potential uses for factories where facilities can be combined to relatively autonomous modules.

Spider Web-Inspired Factory Layout

In this scenario the design of spider webs and the hunting behaviour of orb-weaver spiders was mimicked and applied to factory layout planning. Webs created by orb-weaver spiders consist of non-viscous radial threads and a sticky spiral in which the prey is caught. The central hub consists of a meshwork of threads and is generally used as main habitation area. When navigating around the web while hunting, the spiders always move along the radial threads from their initial position through the centre hub to their target location. They never use the tangentially viscous threads as a transportation route. 

This behaviour was applied to the design of various factory layouts. The figure on the left showcases one of those layouts. In this example the warehouse section was placed in the centre of the factory while the production facilities were placed around the centre in a circular manner. The radial threads of the spider web model serve as transportation routes within the factory. This results in a factory where all production facilities can be scaled indefinitely alongside with the transportation routes while maintaining an efficient material flow. 

Nautilus Shell-Inspired Factory Layout

 The nautilus is a mollusc shaped like a golden spiral. As the nautilus matures it creates new larger camerae and moves its growing body into the larger space sealing the vacated chamber with a new septum. The camerae increase in number from around four at the moment of hatching to 30 or more in adults. The divisions are defined by septa, each of which is pierced in the middle by a duct, the siphuncle. The siphuncle is tubular and generally central and is essential to control buoyancy and movement by drawing liquid/gas into and out of the chambers. 

This principle was used to plan factory layouts in the shape of golden spirals which are able to grow indefinitely according to this strategy. A similar analogy has already been made by urban planners. In some of the layouts the biological siphuncle represents the central transport path. The layout depicted in the figure on the left, however, doesn't have this path. Instead the spaces between the operational resources are used for transportation. Using this method in combination with the heuristic circle method by Schwerdtfeger to determine arrangement of the operational resources, the material flow could be optimized to a very high degree. 

Honeycomb-Inspired Factory Layout

The figure on the left shows a factory layout inspired by a honeycomb. Honeycombs built by honey bees are structures consisting of hexagonal cells. The hexagonal shape is the result of a thermal deformation caused by labouring bees. It ensures a maximum of area efficiency while using a minimal amount of building material. In nature the brood comb is located in the centre of a honeycomb. These cells are usually the busiest ones. The individual cells - once built - no longer grow. If additional space is needed the bees expand the honeycomb by adding new cells to the structure. 

Some of those principles were applied to factory layout planning. To determine an optimal arrangement of the cells the triangle method was used. The result is a very flexible and extensible factory with a modular design. The cells are interchangeable by definition and new cells can be added to the existing structure without wasting space.