5 ways a digital twin can help your warehouse transition to Net Zero

5 ways a digital twin can help your warehouse transition to Net Zero

09 December 2021

  • net zero


Digital twins are a useful way to explore potential cost and efficiency optimisations in the warehouse, especially for net zero improvements. According to Markets and Markets research, the size of the global digital twin market in 2020 was US$ 3.1 billion and is projected to reach US$ 48.2 billion by 2026, with heavy adoption within the supply chain.

The UK government is already putting significant investment into digital twin technology through the Centre for Digital Built Britain which is being run with the University of Cambridge. The new National Digital Twin programme is exploring how this technology can be used to create more sustainable cities and buildings. Connecting datasets and digital twins is vital to future infrastructure resilience and is on the critical path to net zero. Warehouses are therefore a natural extension to the programme.

There are three main ways to benefit from digital twin technology – with visualisations, emulations and simulation. Using a digital twin makes it possible to model any warehouse in 3D, even down to the positioning of stock or shelving units. These deep, computer generated insights can then help inform the way warehouses are planned, designed, operated, and optimised, without having to physically re-create anything. By exploring different layouts, warehouse managers can make substantial energy savings that when multiplied up, will help your logistics operations become more environmentally sustainable.

Digital twins work by creating a virtual model of the warehouse, providing an insight into how the warehouse can be optimised. To be effective, they need a source of data outlining details of current operations and a warehouse management system (WMS) can be an excellent source of raw material data for these ‘what if’ scenarios – to explore how adjustments can result in environmental efficiency savings.

According to McKinsey, companies spend an estimated US$ 350 billion a year on warehousing, and the figure is growing constantly, as pick sizes per order shrink and costs balloon. This increases pressure not just on margins but also on service levels and using a digital twin to model improvements can help improve efficiency by up to 25%, including identifying many net zero opportunities.

Using digital twins to create a net zero warehouse

You might be wondering how a digital twin can add value along the road to net zero for warehouses. How can data minded in a WMS help a warehouse become more environmentally efficient? There is a lot of scope and here are some initial ideas to get you started.

1.     Warehouses are expensive and they can consume a lot of power. A digital twin can help model how to improve space utilisation, which in turn means better use of available resources;

2.     Automation technology and new materials handling investments could improve warehouse workflows and productivity to reduce energy consumption, but the capex required may be significant. A digital twin can help create a strong business case;

3.     Have you identified the impact of adopting different operating scenarios to cope with peak periods? For instance by reviewing cross-docking facilities to optimise energy efficiency, revising floor layouts or employing a different mix of resource allocations? A digital twin can make information readily available;

4.     Why have the lights and heating on in every location during quiet periods? Using sensor data and monitoring technologies fed into a digital twin, it may be possible to reduce energy consumption;

5.     Waste is a very broad term and goes beyond minimising inventory waste or spoilage rates. Every unnecessary step in a workflow is also an example of waste – using resources when they are not required. A WMS can provide data for digital twin modelling on the movement of inventory, equipment and operatives - everything from measuring congestion in busy aisles to low productivity and the incidence of picking errors by operatives.

Digital twins offer huge potential in supply chain environments and using a WMS is the first step towards being able to access the many benefits and gain greater insights into future performance.