Digital twins in the warehouse illustrate a move to the ‘Metaverse’

Digital twins in the warehouse illustrate a move to the ‘Metaverse’

15 November 2021

  • digital twin

Facebook has had its fair share of controversies in recent years, so it’s not a surprise to read that Mark Zuckerberg is re-branding the company to ‘Meta’, emphasising the firm’s increasing focus on the “Metaverse” in its portfolio.  Metaverse was originally coined by author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi book, Snow Crash, which envisions a virtual reality-based successor to the internet, where people live large portions of their lives in virtual environments. Minecraft, Fortnight, Roblox – all these online gaming environments are based on a similar embodied concept, where reality and simulation are intertwined.

Simulating environments and mixing reality with simulations - which is essentially what happens in a metaverse - is all around us and especially within business environments. In order to create a metaverse, there first needs to be a way to establish the reality within the new environment and this is where “digital twins” come in.

Commonplace in many industries – engineering, manufacturing, product design, logistics management – digital twins provide a cost effective way to model innovation. Rather than implementing changes and risking that they may not work out as expected, using a digital twin means any new development can be robustly tested and fine-tuned, before it goes live.

In the warehouse, applications for digital twins are very widespread, since achieving ‘always-on’ efficiency is key to success. However, it can be difficult to experiment with operational changes during busy periods without impacting business as usual. Given the extreme pressures inside the warehouse currently, due to Brexit, Covid-19, transitions to e-commerce, staffing shortages - the list goes on – digital twins can be extremely useful.

Digital twins can bring deep insights into the way warehouses are planned, designed, operated, and optimised, helping to achieve cost savings and higher profits. Today, with shipping rates, fuel and energy prices, raw materials, plus the cost of recruiting warehouse operatives at an all-time high, finding ways to save money is critical.

Using data captured within a Warehouse Management System (WMS), it is possible to create a digital twin of the warehouse and fully simulate operations to probe how to achieve continuous improvement targets. Doing so means that any potential tweaks that can be implemented as a result of exploring optimisations with a digital twin can help improve efficiency by up to 25 percent, according to McKinsey.

How digital twins add value in the warehouse

Here are 8 ways a digital twin can add value, by exploring how a warehouse can be optimised, without having to impose a shutdown:

  1. Identify ways to improve space utilisation and workflow efficiency by changing processes and layouts;
  2. Evaluate how automation technology and materials handling investments could improve productivity and workforce efficiency without having to invest capex;
  3. Experiment with different operating scenarios – e.g. revised floor plans, improved storage accessibility, or model the impact of demand peaks like Black Friday or Singles Day on resource allocations;
  4. Inform the design and operation of cross-docking or stockless facilities to identify the impact of changes to business models, e.g through dropshipping to customers;
  5. Model inventory and operational data including the size, quantity, location, and demand characteristics of items;
  6. Simulate the movement of products, personnel and materials handling equipment throughout a warehouse helping to identify pinch points;
  7. Use sensor data and monitoring technologies to reduce energy consumption;
  8. Provide data on the movement of inventory, equipment and operatives to minimise waste - from congestion in busy aisles to low productivity or picking errors by operatives.

The warehousing and logistics sector is just beginning to explore the potential of digital twins. Using the data within a WMS, companies can take a key first step towards to access the many benefits of digital twins and gain greater insights into future performance.


Author: Eric Carter, Solutions Architect at Indigo Software