Digital Twin Technology | Fortna

    Digital Twin Technology in the Warehouse

    by Dan Basmajian

    A digital twin is a virtual representation or digital copy of things, people, places or processes in real life.

    While digital twin technology has been utilized in the past, it has seen rapid growth across industries including warehousing. As operations, systems and technology evolve, the processes surrounding each element are becoming more complex. By utilizing digital twin technology, operations can now recognize and test these complex functions in a digital environment, alleviating the need to make physical or operational changes in the warehouse. Gartner®, the world’s leading research and analyst firm, predicts that within the next 3 to 5 years most mature supply chain organizations will have digital twin strategies in motion1.

    In warehousing, digital twin technology replicates operations processes, automation, material handling equipment and product placement that support omnichannel fulfillment. With continued SKU proliferation, increased eCommerce, heightened customer expectations, labor shortages and supply chain disruptions, the complexities multiply exponentially. Digital Twin technology models these complexities as well as when paired with companion simulation and optimization tools help determine best strategies and practices moving forward.

    Benefits of Digital Twin Technology in the Supply Chain

    Through the process of digitally reproducing the warehousing ecosystem, various designs for layouts and processes can be modelled. Models can be represented in 2D with overhead views, and logical (front-facing) views, and in 3D where a user can virtually walk through a facility. This allows an operator to run multiple ‘what-if’ scenarios allowing an operation to:

    • Test different scenarios involving automation, labour and equipment
    • Compare and analyse multiple potential outcomes
    • Test critical paths
    • Ensure operational decisions are data-driven and fully tested before committing to adjustments or additions to the warehouse
    • Map lifecycle needs effectively

    The potential to increase productivity and efficiencies while reducing errors can be significant. Having a virtual twin of your warehouse operations can provide previously unseen opportunities for improvement, growth and underutilised capacity. Digital twin technology can enable:

    • Testing alternative travel path directions, as well as entry and exit node placement, to ensure that pick travel and pick time is optimised
    • Adding new facility layout elements to measure if efficiencies can be gained; an example would be adding a cross aisle or an automation element
    • Performing a storage type analysis to find optimal rack counts and digitally testing rack type combinations and locations to derive optimal solution

    Gartner® Highlights Emerging Digital Twin Technology in its Hype Cycle™ for Supply Chain Execution Technologies, 2022

    In Gartner’s Hype Cycle™, Fortna was recognised for delivering digital twin technology with Fortna OptiSlot DC™ slotting optimisation software, which has included digital twin technology since its introduction. Utilising the science of slotting optimisation paired with digital twin technology provides a platform that enables users to visually compare scenarios and metrics, leading to the selection of the best solution to achieve operational goals and objectives.

    Slotting optimisation benefits include:

    • Increased productivity
    • Minimised travel, picking and replenishment costs
    • Maximum capacity utilization
    • Enhanced service readiness
    • Improved pick line efficiency and order quality
    • Improved ergonomics
    • Reduced inventory damages and workplace injuries

    A slotting solution combined with digital twin technology can lead to a fully optimised operation by taking all the warehouse variables and characteristics into account. For instance, best practice would be to place high-velocity items closer to the shipping dock since those items will be picked frequently. Another goal could be to build stable outbound pallets during the picking process, reducing potential damages and improving order quality. In this scenario, placing heavy items early in the pick path helps build a stable base with lighter or fragile items picked later. Both objectives are important; but when considering the SKU mix within most warehouses, these goals could be competing as not every heavy item will be a high-velocity item and not every light or crushable item will be a slow mover. Trade-offs and prioritising objectives are critical to optimise operations and achieve the desired outcome. By creating a digital twin of the warehouse, an operation can test solutions in a virtual environment. These tests produce reports to support the decision-making process, ensuring the selection of the most beneficial solution.

    Modelling a digital twin of your warehouse with intelligent slotting optimisation software, warehouse professionals have the ability to replicate their warehouse layout including racking and storage media types with exact locations featuring a customized naming scheme, the size of each location, XY coordinates, the pick path throughout the facility (including entry and exit points), as well as the inventory levels of each SKU slotted in each location.

    How to Get Started with Digital Twin

    Creating a digital twin can seem a daunting task at first. However, many companies will create a digital twin initially for one or two areas or processes within their operations that are critical and in need of improvement. When selecting which digital twin to create first, consider a few key factors:

    • Which processes have the potential to be implemented at a rapid pace?
    • What processes could provide the most value?
    • Which challenges are in most need of support to improve overall efficiency?

    Embarking on your digital twin journey can have many paths, focusing on the one or two critical areas or paths can illuminate opportunities for some quick wins.

    Fortna Can Help

    Launching a digital twin initiative will require the collection and interpretation of a company’s data, leading to a more accurate simulation and testing with more reliable and actionable opportunities. Leveraging the Fortna team of data scientists, proprietary software and warehousing experts can help an organisation create and analyze a digital twin programme.

     

    1https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2019-02-20-gartner-survey-reveals-digital-twins-are-entering-mai

     

    About the Author

    photo-of-dan-basmajian-optricity

    Dan Basmajian

    Fortna | Optricity

    Dan Basmajian and his team invented the first commercially available slotting optimisation software, which premiered over 35 years ago. In 2006, Dan joined Fortna Optricity to continue to bring the benefits of slotting optimisation to the marketplace, utilising the best mathematical techniques and the power of modern PCs. Dan is a world-renowned warehousing optimisation domain expert, innovator, and a globally sought-after industry speaker.