DB Schenker SyD: Testing order picking strategies in contract logistics using computer simulation

Calculating offers for contract logistics services or improving the processes and strategies of existing warehouses are tasks that require a high level of logistical experience and expertise.

It is also true that in a complex systems such as a picking warehouse, an assessment of the optimization options based solely on experience usually falls short of the real potential. The influences due to changes in the numerous parameters of warehouse and material flow design are too complex. The interaction effects between these parameters are also difficult to estimate. In this situation, computer-aided mathematical processes and simulation tools offer efficient and reliable decision-making aids.

SyD – DB Schenker Lab at TU Darmstadt develops simulation tool

Such a simulation tool for planning contract logistics applications and especially picking strategies was developed at the DB Schenker Lab under the title SyD – Systematic service development in contract logistics. The lab is a cooperation between DB Schenker and the Department of Management and Logistics at TU Darmstadt. The SyD project began in 2017. The current 4th project phase ended in December 2020. The development results are currently being transferred to practical applications by DB Schenker.

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The central goal of SyD is an algorithm-based standard process for warehouse and picking planning. As a planning environment, SyD should offer a very high degree of flexibility in terms of planning content. On the one hand, this means that thanks to a modular model structure, a wide variety of warehouses can be modeled quickly and without complex programming for planning and optimization purposes.

On the other hand, the mathematical evaluation of the storage and picking strategies should be suitable for use in different data situations, from rough data in the preparation of offers to detailed historical data in optimization projects.

Easy modeling, quick optimization

The central element of SyD is a simulation model that provides the simulation with the necessary data via input masks that can be understood intuitively. This means that users without any simulation experience can use the tool immediately.

Gerald Müller, Vice President Process and Efficiency Management at DB Schenker

Computer simulation is an adequate way to implement a moderated decision-making aid for the draft solution, taking into account uncertain input parameters.

An application case should briefly illustrate the possibilities of the simulation: In an existing warehouse, an area of 1,900 m² was selected for picking over 21,000 materials for around 300 spare parts deliveries per day. There are both shelves and pallet racks. The information required for the simulation on articles, orders, equipment used, layout and picking strategy are queried via individually designed input masks. For this purpose, warehouse data obtained from the ERP system was first analyzed. The layout of the warehouse was conveniently adopted via the so-called Plant Builder.

Xiaoke Jiang, Senior Project Manager Solution Design/Simulation at DB Schenker

SyD accelerates the process of modeling for the simulation considerably.

The results of the simulation were then compared with the real data of the warehouse and successfully checked for plausibility. Various load scenarios were simulated on this basis. For example, the operation on peak days, which are around 90 percent above the average capacity with over 550 orders. In the course of the simulations, heuristic routing enabled the number of orders processed per employee to be increased and total working hours to be reduced significantly. In the case of an average order situation, travel times could be reduced by 9 percentage points and, as a result, productivity increased by almost 17 percent, while for peak days, travel times could be reduced by 7.5 percentage points, thereby increasing productivity by 10 percent. These results made it possible to plan the processing in a two-shift operation even on peak days. An option that was not expected with a purely experience-based concept.

“The computer-aided simulation of picking strategies enables @DBSchenker to calculate contract logistics offers even more reliably.“

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On the way to widespread use

Xiaoke Jiang, Senior Project Manager Solution Design / Simulation at DB Schenker: “Our SyD simulation tool has now reached a level of maturity that enables it to be used across the board in our logistics centers. And that with a time investment that is significantly less than with conventional simulation procedures. Instead of up to three months, we only need four days for average tasks before we can provide a ready-to-use model. ” In order to actually expand into the breadth of DB Schenker’s contract logistics organization after numerous successful pilot deployments with SyD, a web application for the simulation tool is currently being developed.