Using Simulation on Warehouse Automation Projects

May 28, 2022

Commonwealth Supply Chain Advisors recently published a ground-breaking white-paper titled, “Beating Murphy’s Law in Warehouse Automation Projects.”  The full paper examines a number of the reasons why automation projects fail to meet expectations, and what companies can do to beat Murphy’s Law. This blog is eleventh in an ongoing series on “Beating Murphy’s Law in Warehouse Automation Projects.”


One 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.


To read Commonwealth’s complete white-paper titled, Beating Murphy’s Law in Warehouse Automation Projectsclick here.



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