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Designing out risk

What type of specialist technology is available to design or redesign a warehouse facility?
Robin Vega
Robin Vega

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What type of specialist technology is available to design or redesign a warehouse facility?

How to plan your warehouse projects

Although a number of challenges are involved in the planning of new warehouse facilities, it's essential for companies to explore all options before construction work begins.

A distribution centre should function as a fully integrated element in the supply chain and each supply chain has its own specific demands on the warehouse.

This will help to reduce the potential risk of mistakes and disruptions, which can ultimately cost a business in financial terms. A number of tools are available to kickstart this process before the warehouse is constructed.

For example, advanced modelling and simulation technology is designed to connect the various factors involved in warehouse planning, from the physical layout of the facility to the final operations once everything is up-and-running.

This information is provided within the risk-free virtual environment of a computer, which can enable better decision-making by highlighting the type of problems that sometimes escape the most experienced professional.

Searching for a flexible option

The value of advanced modelling technology for automated warehouses is particularly relevant, especially when the investment for such facilities is considerable and the payback period can take a while.

The technology will help to identify the scale of automation required, as well as the control system parameters necessary to achieve optimal performance.

It can also be shared on a laptop or PC, enabling the user to demonstrate the interior concept and trial numerous layouts before commissioning the construction.

In contrast, the traditional static design techniques will provide limited results in deciding on layout because they are difficult to share interactively and do not reveal operational dynamics.

Asking the right questions

A number of factors should be considered during the planning process. For example, should the facility be low tech, fully automated or a mixture of the two? What type of material handling equipment will be required? And that's just for the operation right now.

What about in two years time or in the event of a sudden change in volumes or product profiles? A distribution centre today should function as a fully integrated element in the supply chain and each supply chain has its own characteristics and specific demands on the warehouse.

The value of expert opinion

In order to build a meaningful model, the right questions have to be asked and this is where, in our experience, the contribution of specialist consultancy is invaluable.

An expert can tease out the real requirements of the warehouse, based on business objectives and map out the modelling and simulation project correctly.

Relevant data then needs to be collected, validated and benchmarked against industry standards before "current state" modelling is undertaken.

Further workshops can identify other options and these may then be modelled, their impacts on cost and service compared and the selection of options fine-tuned.

Simplifying complex activities

In the case of existing facilities, modelling and simulation carries the obvious benefit of enabling users to assess the impact of impending or proposed changes using "what if?" simulations without risk to ongoing activities.

These changes may be to the warehouse infrastructure, product flows or the organisation of resources. It is the unique ability of simulation to animate complex activities and explain the inter-relationships between them.

Success in practice

Once the correct data has been fed into the system, the time taken to successfully design a warehouse should be significantly reduced.

Linfox, for example, which recently used Cirrus' CLASS warehouse design and simulation tool to model eight new-build warehouses across Australasia, found that design time was halved.

This allowed the team more time to test assumptions and provide customers with the most professional response involving a range of thoroughly assessed options for layouts at the facilities.

It also enhanced communications with customers since the three-dimensional visualisations and fly-through simulations brought to life the proposed warehouse environment and demonstrated the operational dynamics in a way that two-dimensional images simply cannot.

In sharing these with its customers, Linfox was able to engage them in an interactive process and work with them to assess the interdependencies of the warehouse layout.

Furthermore, by displaying graphically areas of the warehouse, Linfox was able to justify its operational proposals to new clients.

Robin Vega, managing director, Cirrus Logistics.

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