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SYSC 527/627: Discrete System Simulation

Instructor: Alexandra Nielsen/Wayne Wakeland

Alexandra Nielsen: Graduate Assistant, Systems Science.  Alex holds a MS in Systems Science and a graduate certificate in computer modeling, and is pursuing a Ph.D. in Systems Science.   

Wayne Wakeland: Professor and Systems Science Program Chair. Wayne earned his Ph.D. in Systems Science, and has taught modeling and simulation courses at PSU for many years. He also has twenty years of industrial experience in manufacturing and Information Technology.


The mathematical basis for discrete system simulation (DSS) is probability theory and queuing theory. It is used extensively in the fields of operations research, civil engineering, systems engineering, industrial engineering, manufacturing engineering, engineering management, systems analysis, etc. Students learn how to use DSS to model systems of interest.

Course Format:

Meeting Times: Tuesdays from 6:40 to 10:00 PM.

Content is delivered via the web (D2L), and is supplemented by the lab times scheduled on Tuesdays with the instructor and a lab assistant available. Students can participate in the lab session remotely via the web (using software called Collaborate). During this time students will build models and do "labs" that illustrate important principles. From 7:30 to approximately 8:30 PM the TA/instructor will review key concepts, answer questions, and discuss the labs, exercises, and project work, as appropriate.

Students apply discrete system simulation to projects within their field of interest. Examples of past student projects include: production floor layout, computer network design, helicopter logging, patient scheduling at a health care facility, customer flow through a cafeteria, traffic flow regulation via on-ramp meters, scheduling/design of a heavy duty equipment maintenance shop, automated testing facility for integrated circuits, the X-ray inspection facility at a castings manufacturer. oil tanker loading at the end of the Alaska pipeline, production & inventory control at a hydraulic equipment manufacturer, and others.

Simulation Language: ARENA from Rockwell Software

A state-of-the-art simulation package for the PC and Unix workstations that features: 1) ease of model specification using general purpose models and blocks, augmented by discrete logic as needed, 2) special blocks to make it easier to model manufacturing systems & processes, 3) support for animation, including importing graphics from CAD S/W, 4) a full set of statistical utilities for analyzing both input and output data, and 5) full integration with Microsoft applications.

In addition, it is possible to create and anaylze DSS models using R, and the course will introduce these ideas and students who already know R will have the option to R rather than Arena for their project.


50% Exercises (Ex.2 = 10%, Ex.3 = 10%, Ex.4 = 15%, Ex.5 = 15%)
30% Project (Proposal = 10%, Report = 20%)
20% Midterm


Kelton, Sadowski and Sturrock, Simulation with ARENA, 6th ed., (5th is okay) McGraw-Hill, 2006.


Graduate standing, a windows-based PC (for Arena, can use the lab if desired). Some background in probability and statistics is helpful. Being comfortable with algorithmic thinking/programming/scripting may be helpful, but not required.


Contact Alexandra Nielsen,, or Wayne Wakeland,