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Sunday, February 19, 2023

Uses of Digital Twins in the Warehouse

Thoughtful look  at Twin based modeling.  5 Cases.

Uses of Digital Twins in the Warehouse   in SupplyChainBrain

The digital twin of a warehouse — a real-time, 3D virtual representation of an actual facility down to the space, people, equipment and inventory — lets operators monitor activity, respond instantly to disruption and model future scenarios to improve performance. Here are five top use cases for a digital twin.

1  Manage volatility and complexity with a static workforce.

Chronic shortages in warehouse labor continue, leaving operators to navigate more complex order flow and heightened customer expectations for service reliability with the same or fewer workers, all as wages and operating costs rise.

The latest U.S. Department of Labor numbers for October 2022 tell the story: 482,000 job openings in transportation and warehousing, with 322,000 hires minus 294,000 quits, layoffs and discharges. Industrywide churn hovers around 50% annually. Worker-retention efforts focus on flexible hours, more varied work, less travel time and less repetitive physical stress, as much as on pay.

Automation is key to filling workforce gaps — not just robotics but also process automation to optimize workflow as companies begin many days uncertain about who will show up to do which jobs. Prioritizing, allocating and dynamically adjusting work to match demand requires control tower visibility across the entire facility.

“If I’m a warehouse VP, director or manager, I want to know what’s going on in my warehouse,” explains Bill Denbigh, vice president, product marketing for cloud-based supply chain software provider Tecsys Inc. “How busy am I? How full am I? Where are the most common pick locations? Where am I running out of space?”

A digital twin provides that baseline operating visualization. Underlying artificial intelligence and machine learning monitor operations in real time, map high-activity areas, flag disruptions and orchestrate movement of people and assets against defined objectives like order priority, throughput, travel time or cost per move. As a virtual copy, it can model “what-if” scenarios without disrupting workflow.

2  Help machines run smarter. 

As DCs become more capital-intensive with adoption of mechanization, automation and robotics, they become more like factories, with a growing share of ROI reliant on maintaining, orchestrating and fully utilizing capital assets.

A digital twin can manage both equipment and processes. It optimizes equipment performance and interaction — say, robotic arms loading a conveyor belt — but also monitors systems for predictive maintenance to minimize downtime. Twins also manage process flow, the movement of people, machines and product in the warehouse space. Near real-time simulation is a key differentiator for the technology. “Say you’re running a digital simulation using AGVs and realize you need to adjust dynamically to the reality of what’s happening on the floor to make them more efficient,” says Joe Vernon, principal business consultant with enterprise software and consulting firm EPAM Systems. “You can now do that over and over again, in very fast cycles.”

The result is shorter simulation times for “smarter” equipment that can be pivoted quickly to adapt to changing conditions, in both simulations and actual operations. Systems can also generate real-time feedback from the floor on performance, constraints from narrow aisles or tight corners, or speed adjustments needed to align with human activity.     ... '

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