Fortify Warehouse Operations with Digital Twin Technology

by Lindsay Olla  |  May 12, 2022

What is digital twin technology?

Digital twins are virtual representations of things, people, places, or processes. While digital twin technology has been around for some time, in recent years, the technology is gaining increased traction across industries, including warehousing. As operations, systems, and technology continue to evolve, the processes surrounding each element are becoming more complex, and digital twin technology is matching in pace and sophistication. Gartner, the world’s leading research and analyst firm, predicts that within the next 3 – 5 years most mature supply chain organizations will have digital twin strategies in motion. Are you ready to embark on your digital twin journey?

In warehousing, digital twin technology replicates operations processes and/or equipment that support fulfillment. Warehousing has always been a complex aspect of the supply chain. Now, add in continued SKU proliferation, increased e-commerce, customer expectations for rapid delivery paired with a stellar customer experience, labor shortages, and disruptions caused by unforeseen circumstances like natural disasters and pandemics, and complexity skyrockets. Operations must be agile and open to innovative solutions to remain effective.

What are the benefits of digital twin technology for the warehousing space?

Through the process of digitally representing the warehousing ecosystem, various designs for layouts and processes can be modeled. Using the created models ‘what-if’ analyses can be performed, providing the ability to:

  • Test different scenarios
  • Compare potential outcomes
  • Ensure that the best decisions are made before committing to adjustments or additions to the actual warehousing environment

The potential to perform more effectively while reducing the chance for costly mistakes or oversights is significant. The cost savings that can be achieved by developing a digital twin for many processes, equipment, and technology implementations will oftentimes surpass the investment, easily achieving rapid return on investment (ROI).

Gartner™ highlights emerging digital twin technology in its Hype Cycle™ for Supply Chain Execution Software

TIn Gartner’s Hype Cycle™, Optricity was most recently recognized for delivering digital twin technology. The flagship software offering from Optricity, OptiSlot DC™ (OptiSlot) slotting optimization software, has included digital twin technology features since its introduction to the market and has enhanced and expanded upon the technology with each software release. Pairing the science of slotting optimization with digital twin technology provides a platform for visually comparing scenarios and metrics, allowing for users to select the best possible solution to achieve their warehouse slotting goals and objectives.

Slotting optimization benefits include:

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

As with any challenging initiative with nearly infinite possibilities and variables, having the ability to compare ‘what-if’ scenarios are essential to selecting a solution that will provide the most valuable outcome. For slotting optimization, warehouse operators will have a variety of goals they wish to achieve, rules to follow, and constraints that must be adhered to, many of which will likely compete with each other.

For example, to reduce travel and increase productivity, a best practice would be to place high-velocity items closer to the shipping dock since those items will be picked frequently. Another goal many operations will want to consider in addition to improving productivity is to build more stable outbound pallets during the picking process, reducing potential damages and improving order quality. In this scenario, you would want to place heavy items early on in the pick path to build a stable base and then place lighter or fragile items later in the pick path, so they don’t get crushed during the picking process. As you can imagine, both of these objectives are important, but when considering the SKU mix within most warehouses, these goals may 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 prioritizing objectives will need to take place. With a digital twin of your warehouse, you will have the chance to see the potential solution visually within the layout and through reports to support your decision-making process, ensuring the selection of the most beneficial solution.

Modeling a digital twin of your warehouse with intelligent slotting optimization software, OptiSlot, 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. Models are represented in both 2D with overhead views, and logical (front-facing) views, in addition to in 3D where you can virtually walk through your facility.

Digital-Twin-Warehouse

Having built a virtual twin of your warehousing ecosystem, the possibilities you can take into consideration to improve your warehouse operations grow exponentially. A few examples include:

  • Testing out different travel path directions, and entry and exit node placement to ensure that travel in your warehouse is being performed in the most efficient way. Once creating the new layout you can run actual orders to see the impact
  • Adding new facility layout elements to see if larger efficiencies can be gained, an example would be adding a cross aisle
  • Performing a Storage Type Analysis to find the optimal rack counts and then testing out which rack type combinations and potential locations within your facility will work best
Digital-Twin-Warehouse-Order-Tracing
Digital-Twin-3D-Warehouse

Where should you start your digital twin journey?

Taking into account all the processes within the warehouse that could extract value from a digital twin initiative, deciding on where to start can be challenging. When selecting which digital twin to create first, you should consider a few factors:  

  • which processes have the potential to be implemented at a fairly rapid pace,
  • which processes will provide the most value, and
  • which challenges are in most need of support to improve overall efficiency.

From there, you can narrow down your options and select which digital twin will be most beneficial to begin with.  Embarking on your digital twin journey can have many paths, focusing on the one or two to get you on the road and deliver a quick win is a great way to get started.

Many warehousing operations have had to respond to changes in demand, shortages, health and safety concerns, increased e-commerce, regulations and more. These situations have presented unique challenges and to solve each there are many variables to consider, many of which a digital twin within slotting optimization software can help you solve. And even better, slotting optimization software is a relatively low price of entry to get acquainted with the digital twin world, requires minimal IT support, and is an industry-proven (mature) technology prime for adoption.

What is necessary for digital twin success?

Much like with slotting optimization, launching a digital twin initiative will require accurate data. Data integrity can make a project or, if data integrity is lacking, it can be one of the biggest hindrances to overcome for success. Understanding the digital twin you are looking to create, and the data points that will be required will be an essential component to making the model beneficial. Connecting with IT early on and ensuring buy-in to the project and the ongoing needs that the digital twin journey will require will be key to success.

For additional steps and recommendations for launching a successful digital twin initiative, check out the complimentary Gartner research, What Should I Do To Ensure Digital Twin Success – access here.

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