4 Benefits of Material Handling System Simulation

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There are numerous benefits to utilizing material handling system simulation, but here are the top four reasons to try it on your next project.

Simulation modeling

Modern material handling systems employ increasingly complex hardware and software to optimize material flow and order fulfillment. As such, committing to a new design, or to modifications of an existing system, can become a daunting task with uncertain implications. Is there enough accumulation space? How long will my system take to recover after an equipment failure? If I invest in modifications to alleviate my current bottleneck, where is my next bottleneck going to occur?

Fortunately, addressing these types of what-if questions is one strength of discrete event simulation. Carefully-constructed simulation models can provide insight beyond what assumptions and spreadsheet calculations will typically accomplish, and often highlight valuable considerations that should be noted before committing to a design change. Here are some of the most notable benefits to validating designs with material handling system simulation.

Verify Rates & Assumptions

One of the primary uses of simulation is to ensure all components of a new or modified design will behave and interact as expected. Simulation packages provide the ability to link up all of the moving pieces and observe their interaction before making any physical changes. This can offer critical learnings that are difficult to identify based on design assumptions or calculated rates of any standalone piece of equipment. Key takeaways often center around determining what system bottlenecks exist, identifying any unexpected problem areas or concerns, and highlighting improvement opportunities.

Test What-If Scenarios

Whether you want to test the impact of a new piece of equipment, or see what your system will look like after five years of aggressive growth projections, simulation can help by running what-if scenarios. These scenarios largely depend on an accurate and validated model. This is a critical step in order to ensure that the model behaves as expected and reflects reality based on known information. A thorough validation phase will improve the accuracy and depth of insight gained from the experimentation to follow.

While the list of alternative scenarios that can be demonstrated is endless and dependent upon the system being tested, here are a few common examples:

  • Increased Volume According to Growth Projections
  • Equipment and Staffing Changes
  • Modifications to WMS/WCS/WES Logic
  • Introduction of New Products / Volume from an Acquisition or Merger
  • Equipment Updates (faster processing times, lower error rates, variable conveyor speeds, etc.)
  • Increased Storage & Buffer Capacity

Present Visuals, Logic, or Both

System validation

The powerful simulation packages that are available today offer an impressive balance of computational ability and strong graphics. Depending on the goals of a given simulation, one of these elements may trump the other in importance, or there may not be a need to include one at all. The good news is that they can be handled independently, allowing the simulator the freedom to cater a model to the project’s needs.

If, for example, there is a need to demonstrate an adjusted layout, confirm flow paths, or verify ergonomic considerations in a 3-D environment, a model can be developed that only employs visual capabilities. This would become a simple animation with quality graphics and high physical accuracy, but no logical validation or testing. Sometimes, there is a need to do just the opposite. Testing of order waving algorithms, batching optimization, slotting plans, and other modules of warehouse software packages are often candidates for this level of logical simulation.

Another strength to this two-sided approach between logic and visuals is the ability to connect and expand upon them. Animations can be developed into computationally powerful simulations, and purely logical models can be expanded to interact with a visual component as well.

Track Performance of All System Components

Another modeling highlight is the ability to create and track performance metrics on all simulated components. These measures can be configured to follow just about any metric desired, and can then be translated into real-time graphs and dashboards for evaluation. Some possible metrics include:

  • System Throughput (orders, pallets, cartons, lines, eaches, etc.)
  • Operator and Equipment Utilizations
  • Distribution of Work by Area
  • Order Wave Plans & Active Task Pools
  • Inventory Levels Over Time
  • Order Completion Time
  • Errors & Exceptions

Learn More

As you can see, there are many benefits to verifying design decisions with simulation modeling, and the list continues from here. Contact one of our engineering experts today to discuss what additional benefits material handling system simulation could provide to your specific design!

Tim is a Consulting Engineer with Bastian Solutions out of Indianapolis, IN. He received both his Bachelor and Master of Science in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University. His graduate work specialized in Operations Research and Supply Chain Management, with a thesis that applied these principles to study the delivery of goods in emergency-relief networks. Tim’s specialties include data analysis, simulation, goods-to-person technologies, and warehouse design & automation.

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