Automated warehouses get a new dimension
3-D design changes supply chain function and operation.
For example, a client’s engineering team may look at a 3-D design for details such as whether an electrical cabinet has a sloped roof, ensuring no dust can collect on top and the cabinet will meet a clean design standard. A client’s operation team may look at the same design to check operator workstations where pallets are being unwrapped to ensure there is space for a trash bin and a way to empty it.
A company’s owner may be looking at the design to make sure the equipment is painted the right color. While this is a simple issue, it is not one that’s able to be corrected once the equipment is on site.
A good 3-D model will be capable of producing fly-through videos of the facility, so that no area of the concept is overlooked. Lastly, a 3-D model with enough detail also gets people excited about the project because it allows them to visualize their operation and helps sell the project to all levels of management.
2. A single point of truth: Automation projects involve multiple firms and disciplines. On a typical unit-load automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) project with a building expansion, for example, a project requires the coordination of the building general contractor, the material handling automation vendor, a structural racking vendor, fire protection systems, and more.
All of these vendors have their own drawings, requirements, and points of interaction with one another. All engineers and architects on a project must coordinate to ensure their designs do not conflict. In a 2-D-only design workflow, mistakes are harder to catch and often result in more engineering hours and lost time in the delivery of a project.
A 3-D design workflow allows engineering disciplines to catch issues early without lost time, which saves money. Even before engineering starts, a 3-D model in the conceptual stage helps ensure the design will work inside a new or existing building.
3. Risk management. With the rising demand for new and modern distribution warehouses, the risk of implementing a project is also increasing. Historically, building a large manual warehouse has been a low-risk proposition because in the event of a rapid volume increase or change in business model, an effective response could be implemented by simply hiring more people, adopting a new process, or expanding the building.
When using an automated system, more planning and resources are needed to ensure its success. Data must be analyzed and interpreted, the operations team must learn to work with automation, and the building utilities (including electrical, compressed air, fire protection systems, etc.) must be coordinated and integrated at key points in the system.
If an automated system is not well planned at the beginning, redesigning or moving the system is costly and changes take much longer to implement than would be the case in a manual warehouse. Understanding all aspects of a system, before it is purchased or built, is the key to mitigating risk. 3-D modeling is one important step to catching mistakes before they are found in the field. Reviewing a 3-D model with all key stakeholders provides a chance to review the design and ask questions that engineers may have overlooked.
In the past, many equipment suppliers and construction firms did not adopt 3-D models into their project lifecycle because the models took too long to produce and required high-end computers.