Warehouse automation: the digital twin to optimise processes

Planning, maintenance, ROI: examples of the digital twin concept at Exotec

jumeau numérique chez Exotec
July 9, 2024

From industry to construction, healthcare and more, the digital twin is already used in various sectors, and is rising in logistics. In a recent article, we explored the features and benefits of this technology. Today, with insights from Paul Margot, Head of Product Management at Exotec, we delve deeper into how Exotec understands and applies digital twin logistics throughout our value chain, enhancing value for both current and future clients.

A digital twin solution for modeling and refining intralogistics automation systems, before installation

Before installing an automated system, during the pre-sales or deployment phase, the primary benefit of a digital twin is its ability to replicate the complete process of future intralogistics operations considering the expected performance, but also the spatial constraints of the warehouse. By simulating the behaviour of the planned system – such as good flows, robotic processes and operations of other automated equipment – based on collected data, a digital twin enables the representation and optimisation of a warehouse automation project, even before actual installation.

In intralogistics environments, with limited space, the upstream use of a digital twin supply chain is very beneficial: “It allows us to ensure that the system integrates perfectly into the warehouse without requiring additional square metres and therefore, additional investment“, explains Paul Margot.

After installation: reduced downtime and improved maintenance, thanks to the digital twin

According to Paul Margot, another major advantage of the digital twin as designed by Exotec involves maintenance, and the rapid resolution of any issues that may arise over the long term in an automated warehouse. “Being able to see what’s happening in real time and where it’s happening in the warehouse gives a clear picture of the incident“, describes Paul Margot, “It’s a huge plus!“.

Our Warehouse Execution System (WES), Deepsky, provides comprehensive visualisation of warehouse operations and equipment interactions within the Skypod system, whether they are Exotec’s own or integrated from other manufacturers, regardless of their installation timeline. “DeepSky is capable of aggregating all warehouse data, including data produced by our robots and data from third-party suppliers ,” he explains. “It does not only display real-time data, it can also go back in time.” For example, if an incident occurs at 10:00am, you can know what happened in the preceding minutes. This highly useful feature facilitates the diagnosis and resolution of any incidents. Most of these can be solved remotely, from Exotec’s three global control centers, operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

In other cases, if a problematic system component – such as a robot – requires attention, it will be isolated and taken to the maintenance area for repair by a technician, avoiding the need to halt all intralogistics operations. A complete shutdown could lead to significant economic consequences for customers. “The digital twin not only allows customers to anticipate the correct operation of the automation system purchased and its integration into the warehouse, but also improves processes over time and optimize maintenance, so they can see that their purchase is secure“, he summarizes. This means it takes less time to see a return on investment, a key benefit for them!

Ensuring the ROI of a warehouse automation system, with or without a digital twin

While optimising system performance can certainly be achieved without a digital twin, using one helps visualise and test operational improvements, before they are implemented. This is particularly valuable given the increasingly central – albeit complex – role of return on investment in intralogistics decision-making.

But what exactly is the ROI we’re talking about here? Paul Margot explains: “Approaches vary depending on the project. Some estimate the time required for their initial investment to be repaid. Others assess the “Total Cost Benefit” (TCB) over ten years, encompassing system costs meaning usage costs (such as energy expenditure) and maintenance costs. ”

Additionally, potential savings, particularly when it comes to labour, along with overall improvements in storage and order-fulfilment performance, contribute to ROI. “Let’s take the example of a supermarket chain aiming to boost the performance of its Click & Collect service“, explains Paul Margot. “Manual preparation significantly limits the ability to supply customers more quickly and increase delivery slots. Automating this preparation process instantly enhances delivery performance and customer service capacity, and therefore, increases revenue. This revenue aspect should be taken into account when measuring the benefits of an order fulfilment system.

To minimise the return on investment time, and maximise the benefits from an automated system, continuous performance optimisation and leveraging operational insights are vital. With or without a digital twin, this ongoing monitoring and optimisation of warehouse operations are essential to make the most of your automated system. Long-term.