Features

Wargaming – simulating for success

MHD talks with Jeffrey Triantafilo and Alwyn Van Zyl of Fuzzy LogX about how virtual simulation of warehousing is changing the intralogistics game. 

According to Jeffrey Triantafilo, Director of Systems and Distribution Centre Design at Fuzzy LogX, the specialist consulting firm’s primary goal is to “future-proof warehouses”.

Although the firm has a passion for automation, Jeffrey says that Fuzzy LogX prides itself on taking a holistic approach with its clients – and advising and implementing tailored solutions for their specific needs. 

“We are focused on warehouse engineering, seeing the system as a whole with all the moving parts, not just one component of it,” Jeffrey says. “We pride ourselves on our independence while maintaining good relationships with all vendors. But we sit completely client side. When we work with a client, we become a part of their team and carry their banner. No kick-backs from vendors – only what’s best for our client.”

Jeffrey says that one of the key services Fuzzy LogX has provided since its founding roughly six years ago is testing of warehouse systems.

“We found that while many vendors and consultants were happy to support clients in the design process of a warehouse system, after that clients were often left to their own devices,” he says. “Our focus was on testing systems to make sure they did what was promised. We would review what a vendor had promised, and then either after, or as it was being installed, we’d come in to make sure everything was working as it should. But there is always a potential gap between something working on paper and working in practice – between contractual delivery of a system and its actual functionality.”

While testing of warehouse systems was, and is, an important service, Jeffrey says its biggest limitation is that it’s after-the-fact. “A lot of times we’d be brought in when a system was already designed or even installed,” he says. “At that point it’s a matter of proving it does what was contractually promised – ‘Prove to me that your Ferrari actually does go 300km per hour’ – rather than thinking of and anticipating future problems.

“But as things become more complex, there is a higher risk factor when you’re building systems that need to anticipate the needs of 10 years from now,” Jeffrey says. “And this is where simulation comes in – taking that testing of systems into the virtual world.”

ENTERING THE VIRTUAL 

Alwyn Van Zyl, Intralogistics Consultant at Fuzzy LogX, says that there are basically three types of simulation – from the broad to the highly specific. And the more specific a simulation gets, the more excited Alwyn and Jeffrey are about its possibilities. 

“We break down our simulations into three categories: strategic simulations, tactical simulations and Digital Twin simulations,” Alwyn says. “With strategic simulations we’re talking a higher or more general level. Businesses might need validation that a system within a warehouse works, or that it will work. Usually a 2D schematic works best here rather than a 3D model. Strategic simulation is lower cost and more focused on identifying material flow bottlenecks.

“The next stage is what we call ‘tactical’ simulation,” says Alwyn. “Tactical simulation is more detailed, with accurate process maps and task times required. This can be done with either 2D or 3D simulation, although 3D adds the additional dimension of space and time and makes visualising an operation easier. This level of simulation helps to validate the actual process times and provides more of an operational insight into the system design.

“The highest stage of simulation is when we create a Digital Twin, a 3D replica of an actual operation,” he says. “With a Digital Twin you get to run an operation in real time, before the system has been implemented or gone live. Direct inputs from warehousing systems can be fed into the 3D simulation, and we can create a virtual reality that is very accurate and replicates the actual system that is being implemented. These models are great for running detailed operational simulation scenarios for insights ahead of time. But they’re also great for virtual onboarding – a person starting tomorrow can put on 3D goggles and figure out where in the warehouse the restroom is.”

While some vendors only simulate for ideal conditions, Fuzzy LogX simulate for practical, real world scenarios.

WARGAMING FOR DECISION MAKERS

“Most people aren’t doing Digital Twin level simulation, or even lower-level simulations” says Jeffrey. “A lot of people are still doing scenario modelling or analysis on a spreadsheet. But we want to scream the virtues of simulation from the rooftops!

“As things get bigger and more complex, decision makers are really putting their necks out there,” he adds. “While vendors may provide a simulation or schematic on a high level – perhaps with some minor bottleneck analysis – to prove their product works in ideal settings, with our simulation models we actually factor in real-world considerations, like how long it takes a person to walk from point A to point B.” 

Jeffrey says that simulations are becoming critical in ensuring the smooth running of a warehouse, but that companies will struggle to automate every aspect of their warehouse. 

“You’ll only automate some component of it – whether that be pallet storage or picking or something else. The vendor might simulate the blackbox automation that they’re installing, but what if it’s all the surrounding processes that create bottlenecks?” asks Jeffrey. 

This, he notes, is where Fuzzy LogX comes in with its client-side simulations. The company focuses not just on the black box process, but also everything else in the warehouse. Unlike the vendors who supply the systems, it is brand-agnostic when it comes to what simulation software it uses, so it can focus on maximising its clients’ operational readiness rather than abstract system readiness.

“Although to give credit where it is due,” Jeffrey notes, “I must say that we have achieved a lot of success designing simulations with Glenvern Associates and their ‘Emulate3D platform – which is an incredibly powerful simulation engine. They’re really amazing at building a virtual twin world.”

He says that Fuzzy LogX goes above and beyond to develop a playbook for a system in advance of its implementation, when it’s still offline.

“I like to call it ‘wargaming’,” he says. “So, if you’re going to run a promotion like Black Friday, or you need to simulate COVID conditions, we can game for that scenario and tell you: ‘This is what will happen, and this is how you can deal with it.’

“And although the concept of testing still plays a vital role – with our capability for cutting-edge simulation, only validating a system’s limitations through testing after something has been installed starts to seem a bit antiquated,” Jeffrey says. “With simulations we can fix the problems before they even occur.”

And while simulation – particularly 3D Digital Twin simulation – is high tech, Jeffrey believes it’s really a way of making things simple. “We work with mum-and-dad online retailers all the way up to companies with billion-dollar supply chains,” he says. “From one shed to a hundred sheds.

“It might be true that a picture tells a thousand words, but a simulation tells the whole story. It changes the game completely because you know a system’s strengths and weaknesses in advance, and can play to the former while avoiding the latter.”

For more information on Fuzzy LogX, click here.

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