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Material Handling and Industrial Simulation

Top 3 Reasons to Consider Material Handling System Simulation

Marvin Logan | 29 December 2010

When most people hear the word "simulation," they often envision a flight simulator (circa 1986 Top Gun), a race car game, or possibly even the theory that suggests we actually live inside of a massive computer model--wow! Nonetheless, individuals don't often realize the benefits and applications of simulation in the material handling world.  To showcase the usefulness and advantages of material handling simulations, I've included the top 3 reasons one should consider simulating their current or future processes.

1. New rules and procedures can be tested without disrupting current operations

Unless you have the most understanding customers in the world, chances are you can't shut down production to try out new processes throughout your facility.  Suppose you think grouping cells of operations could reduce cycle times by 7%, but you haven't proven this yet.  Through simulation, you could model your current layout and make modifications to see what outcomes may occur.  You may find that your original idea isn't possible but find a more suitable solution.

ASRS Mini Load Picking Simulation

2. Discrete event simulation takes into account variables that spreadsheet calculations will likely miss

At one point in time, many of my customers have created an Excel simulation--or hand simulation as they're sometimes called--that helped forecast production rates or kept track of inventory.  The issue with doing hand simulations is that they may not take into account the variability of the environment, down time of resources, rates of equipment, and other vital real-world factors.  This is accounted for through discrete event simulations.  As defined by Wikipedia:
Discrete Event Simulation - The operation of a system is represented as a chronological sequence of events. Each event occurs at an instant in time and marks a change of state in the system1
Meaning, all events are ordered and occur at a set time causing some change to the model at that moment, such as flow from production to wrapping machines in real time.  This allows the user to see areas of concern, like excessive congestion and/or systemic bottlenecks.  A spreadsheet lacks those abilities.

3. Designs for a facility can be tested before committing to the purchase of new equipment

Continuous improvement is a necessity for growth.  Often, part of improvement is having the ability to keep up with the latest and greatest technological advances.  Before you go and buy that multi-million dollar robotic system, you may want to test it in a virtual environment first.  You could find that it may be overkill with your system's throughput, but simply adding additional accumulation conveyor for picking could do the trick.  Some other intriguing equipment that can be simulated includes:
  1. Conveyor Systems
  2. Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS)
  3. Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV)
  4. Ancillary Equipment

New Technology Simulated Before Put into Use: Robotic Mixed Pallet Building

By all means there are many other benefits to simulation, including:
  • "What-if" questions can be tested to see the effect of various scenarios
  • Optimum staffing/resource levels can be determined
  • Expected throughput capability can be analyzed
  • System and business operations can be understood in-depth

Unit Load ASRS Simulation

For additional information on material handling simulation processes, benefits, and costs, visit our page on material handling system simulations.

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Author: Marvin Logan

Marvin Logan is the Vice President of Consulting and Integration at Bastian Solutions. After graduating from Purdue University, Marvin started his career as an industrial engineer and quickly moved into management. He has had roles as a distribution system manager, operations manager, director of engineering, director of distribution, and vice president of distribution for several leading companies. 


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