DC Simulation Delivers Real-World Results  

How Simulation Reduces Risk and Commissioning Time While Optimizing Performance

Automation, robotics, control software, warehouse execution systems (WES), labor management software (LMS) and other innovations are becoming increasingly important — even essential — to addressing the growing demands of service level agreements (SLAs).

While many solutions are available, their sheer number and complexity make it difficult to determine the most efficient and cost-effective choices for every operation. And since new facilities or upgrades often have to be planned 12–18 months or more in advance, anticipating possible market shifts is critical.

In this environment, DC simulation and emulation are emerging as highly effective tools for minimizing risk, optimizing performance, and identifying growth opportunities. These technologies significantly reduce uncertainty by allowing multiple solutions to be tested, refined and validated before you buy and implement them. Real-world performance can be predicted with high accuracy, enabling you to determine which solution will best achieve your chosen benchmarks, how effectively your system will respond to disruptive changes, and how quickly you’ll see return on investment (ROI). They can also enhance your operation over time by identifying potential process enhancements, validating alternative upgrades, and enabling you to make better-informed decisions.

Virtual Solutions Create Profitable Reality.

While simulation and emulation are related, these two terms refer to two different aspects of virtual performance optimization:

  • Simulation approximates system behaviors and performance using a set of mathematical, logical, and physics-based inputs and assumptions, and then calculates the system’s response. This allows dozens or even hundreds of possible scenarios to be tested in a very short amount of time. For example, the processing of millions of products passing through one or more DC areas could be simulated in one or two hours. In this way, the most efficient designs and processes for a specific site’s needs can be identified before any physical equipment is ordered. Simulation can also be used to predict the growth potential of a new or existing DC.
  • Emulation, a physics-based approximation, uses the actual machine control code or other software that will ultimately control conveying equipment. By precisely duplicating the responses of physical equipment, emulation enables software code to be validated much earlier in the lifecycle of a project, before on-site work begins. This can significantly streamline installation and commissioning. Emulation can also be used to test integration with intermediate WES software, ensuring that the entire design functions reliably when the system is switched over to real-world equipment.

These two approaches can be used to test everything from new mechanical systems to changes in operational conditions (such as staffing) to verify the effectiveness of proposed changes before implementation.

The advantages of these tools include, but are by no means limited to, the following:

  • Risk reduction and better-informed decisions — You’ll have a clear understanding of how systems will work, what quantifiable improvements they’ll deliver, and when you’ll achieve ROI.
  • Reduced commissioning time — Possible bottlenecks or other challenges can be identified and proactively corrected ahead of time. Solution models can also show the impact each alternative will have on other processes. These results can establish a clear road map for the real-world version of the system, which speeds implementation and troubleshooting while reducing costs.
  • Digital visualization — High-end graphic visualization shows exactly what the system will look like while operating, which can be a valuable asset when seeking stakeholder support.
  • Future-proofing and contingency planning — Solution models can prepare your system for challenges before they occur, modeling the impact of peak seasons, changes in consumer buying patterns, equipment breakdowns, chance events and other disruptions. You can also determine how much additional capacity your system can handle with a high degree of accuracy.

Simulation and emulation enable new DCs to be planned with maximum efficiency, predicting throughput rates, operational constraints and system sensitivities. Existing operations can use the same tools to evaluate changes to operational conditions or new mechanical systems.

System-level Simulation

Using software and custom analytic tools, sophisticated development teams can simulate the functions and performance of an entire DC system. As part of this process, the design can be visualized in an animated virtual environment that models everything from automated equipment to human labor. In addition to providing a valuable tool for managing the complexities of overall system design, this virtual DC can be tested to see how it will respond to very specific challenges.

It is possible to model, for example, how the system would respond if one of its lines breaks down for an hour, or if a forklift runs out of battery power in a location that could disrupt throughput. Any significant challenges encountered by the simulation can be identified, enabling them to be corrected before implementation.

Unit-level Emulation

Unit-level emulations focus on a sub-system or single piece of equipment. While these calculations have more intensive requirements, they also deliver significantly higher levels of accuracy. This makes it possible to target specific benchmarks or challenges, or validate the throughput of new equipment.

The most reliable unit-level emulations rely on complex physics-based engines, with the same software and controls logic used to drive real world equipment. Such models leverage performance metrics from the equipment they replicate, such as acceleration and deceleration rates, to simulate the most realistic behaviors.

In addition, unit-level emulations can be incorporated seamlessly into system-level designs, enhancing the entire solution model.

Simulation and emulation provide powerful tools for minimizing risk. Their exceptional reliability and predictability enable you to test and optimize before you build.

Moreover, the best simulations don’t just rely on software tools. Virtual DCs from Honeywell Robotics incorporate decades of material handling experience plus millions of hours of real-world equipment performance data, testing and validation to ensure that each simulation accurately reflects the reality that will follow.  

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