Operations Research

Short shop schedules

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We consider the open shop, job shop, and flow shop scheduling problems with integral processing times. We give polynomial-time algorithms to determine if an instance has a schedule of length at most 3, and show that deciding if there is a schedule of length at most 4 is NP-complete. The latter result implies that, unless P = NP, there does not exist a polynomial-time approximation algorithm for any of these problems that constructs a schedule with length guaranteed to be strictly less than 5/4 times the optimal length. This work constitutes the first nontrivial theoretical evidence that shop scheduling problems are hard to solve even approximately.