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Try your warehousing options before you commit

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Warehousing decisions can be critical to success. 3D modelling can help you try out what’s possible, make those decisions and put yourself ahead of the competition. Matt McDonald reports.

If you’re setting up a new warehouse, it makes sense to spend a bit of time and money on it. It pays to do some thinking, do some planning and come up with the best, most efficient warehouse design for your business.

Automation and technology have presented us with plenty of warehousing options. So how, as a business owner or manager, are you supposed to choose between these options?

By testing them with 3D modelling software.

An example is Demo3D, a controls testing, simulation and emulation product. Available locally from Glenvern Associates, this is a versatile, yet powerful design, prototyping and pre-sales modelling tool.

“We have had Demo3D in Australia for a few years now but I would say it’s been in the last two years where people are really standing up and taking notice of the software’s abilities,” Glenvern’s Director Alec Poulton told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

He explained that this has particularly been the case “...as the whole manufacturing and warehousing scene becomes more competitive and everyone is looking for that edge to help reduce costs and optimise design layouts, process flow and resource utilisation.”

Demo 3D can be used for a wide range of materials handling and automation applications, but in the area of warehousing, it is recommended for use by system designers, system integrators, as well as end users or operators of warehouses.

According to Poulton, the software is suitable for companies of all sizes.

“We’ve got small two people companies using it, right up to huge companies like Intralox, with thousands of employees,” he said.

So what can it do exactly?

It can design, test and simulate new and existing warehouse facilities.

“We can ‘bring to life’ a CAD drawing of a new layout, plug in the functional parameters and allow the user to understand how their concept will operate, see any potential bottle-necks or issues and then run a simulation or ‘what-if scenarios,” Poulton explained.

For example, if you are thinking about the best way to design loading/unloading stations and how to best integrate them with the rest of the warehouse (including workers), you can design what you want, run it on Demo 3D and see how well (or poorly) it runs in the virtual world.

“We can model the simplest manual handling warehouse, to the most sophisticated automated storage retrieval system (ASRS) system.”

And for existing layouts, Demo3D allows the user to test concepts and understand how any future upgrades or process changes will integrate with the existing system. A simulation of future upgrades would then provide the data required for proof of concept and the justification for spending capital.

There is a series of catalogue components available with the software and end users are also able to create their own custom components and catalogues.

Some of the included catalogue items for warehouse applications are components for forklifts; AGV and RGV (as well as Path System for these); loading/unloading stations; a variety of manual handling racking; a variety of automated racking including numerous configurable ASRS systems; human pickers for manual handling; robotics and palletisers.

Asked how much expertise is needed to use the software, Poulton said that it is designed to be “as simple and flexible to use as possible.” The task of modelling a straight conveyor system, for example, can take just a couple of minutes to get a working model up and running.

“Typically our tutorial models get done in 20-30 minutes and that’s a fully functional model,” he continued. “Then some of the larger stuff you might spend a couple of days on. It depends what you are trying to get out of it.”

And to date it has been able to handle just about any task thrown at it.

“Sometimes we get presented a potential scenario,” Poulton said. “And if we haven’t been able to do it on the spot, we’ve got great support from the software developers and they usually can get me a working example within 24 hours which has been pretty impressive.”

But the philosophy behind such modelling is quite simple. Its intention is to provide real-time benefits that can be measured in time and money.

It is intended that by cutting commissioning times, producing more predictable outcomes, lowering investment risk; and producing faster ramp times and safer testing, the software will not only pay for itself but also set up businesses for success.

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