Distribution centre machinery testing time reduced from 8 weeks to 5, with mix of virtual and onsite commissioning

Key achievements

  • Upgrade to the controls of existing tilt tray sortation machine took 5 weeks in total to commission.
  • The IDC team completed  the virtual commissioning aspect remotely using a digital twin created by Simsol using Siemens Plant Simulation software.
  • Costly time onsite was minimised, with overall commissioning time reduced by 3 weeks vs. a previous comparable upgrade which took 8 weeks using onsite commissioning only.

All systems are configured differently, so without access to sortation machinery we have to
use standard warehouse control system design models to construct code for testing. With high speed sortation
systems of over 6,000 items per hour there are always a few surprises when we get onsite! With the
model from Simsol we could simulate almost all aspects and know that the code was validated against the system design, so we won’t need major changes when we get to
site. It’s good to know you have a solid foundation to work from.

Richard Towne, Engineering Project Manager, IDC


Whilst machinery lasts for many years, a regular requirement is to update the control systems that operate it to maintain functionality and ensure software is still supported. System integrators, IDC, have specialist application knowledge of controls systems applied to warehouse distribution, logistics and manufacturing. In partnering with Simsol, they were able to trial using a digital twin simulation to complete virtual commissioning in a busy distribution centre serving major mail order and e-commerce businesses.

The challenge to address

The aim was to explore how much work could be completed remotely to reduce final commissioning checks completed onsite. With preparations for the Christmas seasonal peak starting in July for many retail operations, the pressure was on to make the most of a slim two month window to complete the upgrade during May and June.

To make the most of the time available, the team focussed on the more complex areas of machinery,
testing the dynamics and relationships between components to ensure correct configurations, prioritising simulating mechanical changes to moving parts.

The work

Using a digital twin of the distribution centre, the team were able to take into account oversized, or ‘ugly’
items, as they are known, generating virtual stock data, rather than going off the general rate of throughput
for standard items. By factoring in a range of item sizes in line with the packages the distribution centre
would be processing, the team were able to create dynamic data which gave a more realistic view of machinery performance. Being able to do this work away from site was crucial to meeting client deadlines.

The results

The team reduced the time spent commissioning from 8 weeks of onsite man hours down to 5 weeks,
including time in the office spent completing virtual commissioning, plus throughput of the machine
increased in the bargain.

Virtual commissioning is an example of one of the stages of production processes where simulation can
help engineers to test and improve their operations.  As Siemens smart expert partners and specialists in Plant Simulation software, a key benefit
shared with clients is the ability to create a digital twin which gives a strategic overview of the entire
operation, rather than just a cell or line. This gives more opportunity to focus in on key areas identified for investigation and continually improve across the whole production.

To find out more about IDC’s products and services please contact Peter Hadley, Business Development Manager at peterh@idc-limited.co.uk

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