How enabling the 3D Digital Twin can accelerate and optimise your warehouse operations

Jan 20, 2020
  • operations
  • IT
  • discrete manufacturing
  • SAP

We often hear that some aspects of innovation, particularly in the supply chain world are ‘innovation for the sake of innovation’ and that no real return on investment (ROI) or value add is realised. So is this next concept merely following in these footsteps or can some real business value be realised?

Making the most out of new implementations

How many consultants on the day of a Go-Live (particularly in warehousing and manufacturing) can sit comfortably knowing there will be little or no operational impact with the IT system they have implemented? Despite all the testing efforts and hard work, no-one truly knows, and when a real-life operation is undertaken and managed by a new IT system, it can lead to difficulties that typical test execution may not capture.

Though some organisations perform Business Continuity Testing that would help minimise the risk of any such issues, this isn’t adopted throughout the industry, usually due to pressure of the project timeline and limited detailed business engagement. However, imagine being able to simulate and visualise the warehouse operations with real data and perform real transactions, to be able to understand this all ‘virtually’ in a 3D Digital Twin, during the testing phase prior to the live implementation of a complex new IT warehouse management system (WMS).

Example of a 3D warehouse model

Three ways that the 3D Digital Twin can help manufacturers

This concept of a warehouse and production 3D Digital Twin can also be used to bring to life the warehouse solution well before the testing execution phase, enabling significant business engagement opportunities, as well as process, facility layout and operational benefits, such as:

Early solution understanding and digital demo capability

  • 3D visualisation of warehouse and production operations
  • Design confirmation (even remotely) to clarify the warehouse operation and integration with the IT WMS solution

Improved operator training and business adoption

  • Real-time visualisation, understanding and operational impacts of IT WMS processes
  • Improved adoption through realistic visual models which are relevant to the warehouse operation

Warehouse operational optimisation enabling improved IT WMS solutions

  • Modelling and simulating capacity and manpower activities
  • Understanding resource (humans and machines) efficiency and capacity constraints
  • Modelling optimal warehouse facilities, operational processes and racking layout and design
  • Modelling and understand warehouse schedule throughput with constraints
  • Enabling long and short term ‘what-if’ scenario modelling and planning
  • Enabling wider distribution network design and optimisation
  • Reducing initial investment and getting the design right the first time

Through adopting warehouse and production 3D Digital Twin, these are the real benefits you can expect to achieve:

  1. Managers can get a real-time look at any warehouse and any production line to ensure that the process is working as planned. Moreover, they can react to any unplanned event such as a sudden increase in customers demand, or an unplanned resource shortage due to a labour strike or constraint.  
  2. Operations directors can use the warehouse and production 3D Digital Twin to model and visualise multiple simulation iterations to test any new processes before bringing it to life, and avoid making large capital investments. 

Optimizing processes, optimising people

Concerning the inbound process, for example, a warehouse manager may want to experience a new operating method, tweaking the existing steps, designing a new floor layout or completely changing the handling process for inbound products until the process is fully optimised and efficient. A multitude of design and modeling approaches are offered by simulation tools to support the managers in these design challenges.

 All direct labour involved in the receiving, storing, packing and shipping activities, can be supported by these new 3D virtual modeling and simulation tools, including various types of equipment such as AGVs and conveyors. Therefore, in this case, for example, a complete end-to-end inbound process flow can be designed within the 3D Digital Twin. It can fully simulate warehouse operators unloading bulk boxes from containers, then using conveyors to convey the goods from the goods receipt zone to a palletizer machine and finally autonomous forklifts performing the final put away. By using an appropriate data set, the warehouse manager can, for example, measure the current processing time for the unloading of goods and accurately reallocate the resources based on their idle time and distance coverage.

Regarding indirect labour and supervisors, the new digital platform offers a plethora of dashboards to model and measure the current performance and provide options to further model and measure potential increases in process efficiency. In addition, trainers may use the 3D virtual digital warehouse to visualise and upskill the warehouse leaders and team operators, with respect to any new future layouts and procedures.

Within the outbound process, retailers are continually looking for the optimal picking process; by using the 3D virtual digital warehouse for example, they can optimise the picking process using carts with the correct number of trays that will be required to fulfill e-comm orders. Another major challenge that can be digitally modelled is the ability to optimise the exit capacity of the total sorting and packing work centre availability. All of these operational process design challenges can be represented in a 3D Digital Twin simulation tool to allow upfront design and analysis, and to provide a clear view of on how we can fine-tune operational parameters for a better more optimised result, ultimately reducing upfront capital and long term operational costs.

Visualising the future warehouse and manufacturing operations in a 3D Digital Twin prior to taking an IT system live will significantly reduce the implementation risks, while improving business engagement and ensuring critical operational continuity. This should be a must in every global business transformation.
 Managing Director, delaware UK and US.

Reduce the risk, reap the benefits

With global transformation programmes and the challenges that logistics face every day, the use of a warehouse and production 3D Digital Twin simulation tool will help reduce both the design effort and business adoption risks when deploying a solution such as SAP EWM [hyperlink to EWM reference/content], ultimately enabling improved productivity and better customer service, at a lower capital and operational cost. 

The 3D Digital Twin should be regarded as a long term business investment to maximise ROI, allowing the warehouse to be continually modeled and tested during future business change, such as increased sales demand as a result of retail seasonality, and then allowing SAP EWM settings be safely updated ensuring maximum optimised throughput. The risk to business continuity when making such changes to an EWM system can be enormous if they are not modelled and the impacts are not fully understood before implementing any change.