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Material Handling Simulations

Simulation Overview

Simulation CaptureMaterial Handling Simulations are used for a variety of purposes in an order fulfillment environment. A simulation is a time and space model of an operational system with fixed and variable parameters allowing the user to perform all kinds of “what if” analyses to in order to determine optimum parameters, identify potential bottlenecks, and avoid problems prior to actually building the system in the material world. Output includes a video AVI file of the actual operation, allowing your team to view workers in real-time, slow motion or high speed, the way a football coach might dissect a game on film. You can see idle operators, collisions, and people and machines who are waiting on information or work.  But it is much more than a pretty picture. When to press “Run” the model collects data on a host of various discrete operator and system performance variables, allowing you to look at your operation at both a micro and macro level. Results are checked against sensitivity by variable.

Material Handling Simulation Process

Physics Based Material Handling SimulationWhen engaging in a simulation study first we identify a proposed operational concept or the scope of an existing problem. Fixed and variable inputs are selected along with a real-world range of inputs, for example walking speed or time per pick. Industry standards are used for a starting point.  To simulate real-world, performance especially of people can be modeled along something approimating a bell curve. Once the model is built, it is run with real customer order data if available. This data can be an extrapolation (say to allow for growth) of existing customer order data, or in some cases this order data much be built from assumptions. Simulation cost can vary widely and does not necessarily need to be that expensive.  One key in controlling the cost is to identify the key items requiring modeling and how much ‘visual fidelity’ is required.  For example a problem may be able to be modeled with a simulation accomplished in a couple of days if there is no animation, or if the animation can be simple 2D.  One the other hand, realistic motion down to an operator level can be more expensive.  The more advanced animations can be exceptionally helpful, however in quickly communicating results when presenting the results to senior management or to non-technical personnel.

Sensitivity Analysis

Simulation ReportWhen modeling a new process, it is a nice confidence check to model the existing operation as it is today to see if the results match the current performance. Then the model is checked and validated. From here we run and interpret the model and create a written report of our results and recommendations. Does the sorter need 60 lanes or will 48 be sufficient? How does your answer vary based on how fast a packer can complete their order? Knowing the answers to these questions give you the confidence that the proposed system design will work. Once the project is complete, it is often possible to package the simulation model in a way that our customers can share it through their organization and use for future ‘what if’ order profile scenarios by installing it on local PCs. Ultimately the ability to know what to model, how to interpret, and execute the best business decisions based on the results and analysis of the simulation model is important.  Therefore suffiicient time should be spent to ensure that the model is accurate and working with the simulation provider learn the sensitivities of the model to get the best results.

Physics-Based Modeling

Print and Apply SimulationNewer technologies like Demo3D have provided additional dimensions to material handling simulations.  Now, we are not just considering time, throughput and labor; we have the ability to provide a model that includes friction, mass, force etc. allowing us to look in a detail level at the physical ability of the system to provide the performance required.  As a result, in key areas of the system we can physically emulate the real world as well.  This also helps provide a degree of realism before unattainable helping us to model systems to help provide confidence in their success before detailed engineering and manufacturing begin.