« Spending “Smart Money” on Warehouse Automation Projects | Main | Warehouse Automation Projects: Don't cut corners with slotting! »

Using Simulation on Warehouse Automation Projects

By Ian Hobkirk | 11/05/2019 | 9:01 AM

Most companies that have attempted to implement automated materials handling equipment have discovered that these projects can be particularly vulnerable to Murphy’s Law, the principal that, “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” This blog is eleventh in an ongoing series on “Beating Murphy’s Law in Warehouse Automation Projects.”

Blog 11 DCOne key way to mitigate risk is to spend “Smart Money" on key technologies like system simulation.

Simulation software differs from other forms of data modeling in some significant ways. Simulation software allows actual material handling equipment to be built with defined performance parameters and logic models, which simulate the decisions that are made by the controls software as various inputs are received. Graphical layouts are created which show what the equipment looks like in 3D renderings. Both mechanical as well as human work rates can be defined and modeled. A material handling system can be virtually “built”, and the software can simulate the picking, packing, and shipping of actual sales orders both by human and mechanized processes. Some of the key questions that simulation software can often answer include:


  • How will the system respond if last Wednesday’s sales orders were processed through it?
  • How would the system respond if the orders from the busiest day last year were processed through it?
  • What bottlenecks exist in the system?
  • What would happen if a key component in the system failed?
  • What if we grouped orders in batches like this?  How quickly can the system process them?
  • If we don’t have the labor perfectly balanced across zones, what level of labor imbalance will make the system choke?
  • What happens if the shipping area falls behind for “x” minutes?  At what point does the system back up and shut down the picking area?
  • Will it be possible to replenish the system quickly enough without interfering with picking?
  • What if the average lines per order drops from three to two?  How will this impact the system throughput?


In complex material handling systems, simulations can identify design flaws in ways that no other modeling tools can. Unfortunately, simulations can be very costly and time-consuming to build. Many companies choose not to have a simulation performed in an effort to save money or preserve the project timetable. However, buyers would do well to consider the time and cost of rectifying a design flaw after a system has been built and installed.


Sometimes companies choose to have their material handling equipment provider perform a simulation of the system. However, purchasers should consider that equipment providers are not always the best source for this form of critical design validation. It can often be more effective to have an independent, third party perform the simulation, if for no other reason than to review the design with a “fresh set of eyes.” Many independent consulting firms can perform material handling simulations free from any desire to sell equipment, or any pride of authorship in the design which could inadvertently bias the results.




By submitting your comments, you agree to our Terms of Service.

The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

About Ian Hobkirk

Ian Hobkirk

Ian Hobkirk is the founder and Managing Director of Commonwealth Supply Chain Advisors. Over his 20-year career, he has helped hundreds of companies reduce their distribution labor costs, improve space utilization, and meet their customer service objectives. He has formed supply chain consulting organizations for two different systems integration firms, and managed the supply chain execution practice at The AberdeenGroup, a leading technology analyst firm.


Popular Tags

Recent Comments

Subscribe to DC Velocity

Subscribe to DC Velocity Start your FREE subscription to DC Velocity!

Subscribe to DC Velocity
Go digital