Recently, our managing director Tim Hoebeek was interviewed about his vision on building a digital twin of newly constructed warehouses. With the breakthrough of new technologies, we can make a digital copy of any warehouse. The question remains: is it worth the investment? What can we learn from the experiences in a digital environment? And, if we detect problems in an early stage in the digital environment, can these be solved easily?
For two clients Quinaptis has used a digital twin of their warehouse. Below, you can read an excerpt from this interview. If you are thinking about building a new warehouse, you will find some inspiration below, before getting started. The full article can be found at www.warehousetotaal.nl .
A digital twin is nothing more than a digital image of the warehouse or any other installation. This image can have a lifelike appearance, allowing users to move through the virtual space and actually imagine themselves in the warehouse. But even more important than a visual environment is to examine operators’ behaviour. If the digital twin reacts in the same way to changes in goods flows, fluctuations in patterns and human interventions as the real warehouse, this digital model can be used for simulations, for example. What happens if the number of orders increases by twenty per cent? When will problems arise if one of the cranes in the high bay warehouse fails? The results of simulations can be used to intervene and prevent future problems.
“A digital twin is a realistic copy of the physical installation. A copy of the layout, but also of the processes and control systems. That means, for example, that the algorithms from the warehouse management system (WMS) and the logic from the programmable logic controllers (PLCs) are included in the digital twin,” says Tim Hoebeek, managing director of Quinaptis.
Quinaptis is a Belgian ICT consultancy & implementation provider specialised in optimisation, automation and digitalisation of warehouses running primarily on SAP software. Together with PLC manufacturer Siemens and Thomas More University College in Geel, Quinaptis developed a digital twin of a miniature warehouse. As such, the SAP EWM warehouse management system works together with Siemens PLCs.
“With the digital twin, we succeeded in detecting and resolving errors in the control of the miniature warehouse more quickly. We were able to stage errors and thereby detect bugs in the software proactively,” says Quinaptis.
This option is also available for real warehouses. With a digital twin, it is possible to test whether all cranes, lifts, conveyors and other machines and systems function as intended before going live. “This allows us to significantly shorten the lead time of automation projects. Volume and stress tests are much easier to organise in a digital twin than in a real warehouse. In a digital twin, we can also create incidents without actually physically damaging goods or systems,” explains Hoebeek.
In a digital twin, for example, the design specifications of the pallet staging can be recorded, such as the maximum weight per shelf. Normally, the load rules in the WMS ensure that the maximum weight is not to be exceeded. If the digital forklift truck driver, controlled by the WMS, does place accidentally an overweight pallet on a shelf, the digital shelf will fail and people will actually see pallets fall during testing. “In this way, we can test whether the correct storage rules are in the WMS. Obviously, we would never be able to test such a scenario in the real warehouse,” says Hoebeek.
Quinaptis has now used a digital twin of their warehouse for two clients. Was the effort worthwhile?
“Modelling the warehouse takes a lot of time. It requires detailed CAD drawings of the warehouse and the systems. In the future, modelling will take less time as the libraries of digital objects grow,” explains Hoebeek. “Whether that effort is worth depends on the application. For an existing warehouse of limited size, setting up a digital twin is probably not worthwhile. But in the case of a new building, building a digital twin can be worthwhile just for implementing the systems. If the digital twin is then also used for predictive maintenance, the earnings model becomes even more interesting.”