This article discusses the problem of unloading a sequence of boxes from a single conveyor line with a minimum number of moves. The problem under study is efficiently solvable with dynamic programming if the complete sequence of boxes is known in advance. In practice, however, the problem typically occurs in a real-time setting where the boxes are simultaneously placed on and picked from the conveyor line. Moreover, a large part of the sequence is often not visible. As a result, only a part of the sequence is known when deciding which boxes to move next.
We develop an online algorithm that evaluates the quality of each possible move with a scenario-based stochastic method. Two versions of the algorithm are analyzed: in one version, the quality of each scenario is measured with an exact method, while a heuristic technique is applied in the second version. We evaluate the performance of the proposed algorithms using extensive computational experiments and establish a simple policy for determining which version to choose for specific problems. Numerical results show that the proposed approach consistently provides high-quality results, and compares favorably with the best known deterministic online algorithms.
Published January 2017 , 20 pages