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  • Steve Walsh

Why Simulating & Emulating Warehouse Automation Makes Sense

When provided with a ‘clean slate’ onto which a warehouse automation project can be designed, both supplier and client will want to know that the solution will do what is being asked of it, that throughputs are achieved and that the system as a whole will “work”.


Simulation versus Emulation

At Logistex, as part of the design and implementation of a project, we will first simulate and then emulate a solution, but what does this mean and what is the difference?


A simulation is a stand-alone model of the solution. As part of the design process, Logistex produce a 3D simulation model. This will represent the full model, in that all necessary components will be included and configured at rates to match the real, to be installed kit. This model can then be run to see how the proposed system will behave.


An emulation model acts as the Materials Handling Equipment (MHE) to be installed and is controlled by the WCS. Logistex take the model generated in the simulation stage and change it so that it is controlled externally by LWS Reflex, using the same interface specification the MHE will use.


Simulation

The flow of loads within the simulation are controlled by algorithms developed to closely mirror how the system would be controlled by a real WCS or WMS.


Experience will allow the design to take shape, but simulation will take away the need for “gut-feel” and varying options and ideas can be investigated before capital is committed to a project.


The model can be examined to determine how the real solution will operate and whether it is fit for purpose. The model can be run real-time or at speed, meaning tests showing a full day’s operation can be performed in a matter of minutes.


Questions can be answered such as:

  • Is the system dimensioned correctly?

  • Where are the bottlenecks?

  • Have we specified the correct type and amount of equipment?

  • How many operatives are required?

  • What if…?

This model can then be discussed with the client. This gives an early insight into how the system will work and whether there are any changes to the desired operation.

Videos, 3D renders and even Virtual Reality headsets can be used to view the system in operation. Reports are generated showing rates at certain points, enabling pinch-points to be identified and catered for early in the design process.


Emulation

An emulation model is generated and is used to test and commission the WCS controls software. Interfaces within the emulation model allow the WCS to connect as it would connect to the real Automated Material Handling System.


Tests of the WCS can be performed remotely while, or even before, the physical warehouse is in the installation phase, meaning test and commissioning is performed earlier in the project implementation and at a lower cost. Varying types of test can be set up and performed at the push of a button, with all the stock and containers returned to their starting positions at the push of a button.


Layout and hardware changes can still be identified and implemented at this stage.


Customers can be shown how the system will work as a whole and how the project is progressing. End users can be engaged early in the project, with interface screens fine-tuned if usability is shown to be an issue.


Ongoing Support

As a system grows during its lifecycle, the simulation and emulation phases can be modelled and the new model used to evaluate any suggested modifications ensuring they are beneficial to the ongoing operation, thereby reducing the risk of changing a running system.