DLA - Defense Logistics Agency

05/14/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/14/2024 12:55

Agency property disposition warehouse gets virtual makeover


The Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services San Joaquin property disposal site in Tracy, California, is getting a $30 million transformation, and some of the key warehouse layout decisions are taking place in a virtual space.

In 2023, a contract firm used LiDAR to map the layout of San Joaquin warehouse bays. That scanning effort created a virtual duplicate, or "digital twin" of those spaces, allowing operations personnel to manipulate potential layouts in nearly limitless ways.

Agency property disposition warehouse gets virtual makeover
Upgrades and layout designs to the Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services San Joaquin property disposal site in Tracy, California, are being tested virtually in the form of a "digital twin".
Photo By: DLA Disposition Services
VIRIN: 140524-D-D0441-1000
"Having a digital model of San Joaquin allows leadership the opportunity to ask 'What if I rearranged this? What if I moved racks from here to there?'" said Don Helle, a process engineer with DLA Disposition Services. "Having digital twin software internal within DLA Disposition Services provides a tool to assess and project production and safety metrics at any of our 40-plus warehouses."

Helle said access to a virtual model of its facilities lets DLA run unique simulations based off real-world metrics, done impartially.

"It's a little more difficult to imagine a restructured workplace if it's your home," Helle said. "Let's say I've been at my site for a long time, we've always done things a certain way, traveled a certain path, used certain doors, it's what I know, I can't help but be a little biased. With a digital twin, we can keep trying various reconfigurations and run the model and production dashboard to identify projected improvements using real data."

The effort started when DLA Logistics Technology Research Program Manager Dr. Barry Humphrey reached out to the research and development team at DLA Disposition Services to see if there were projects it would like to tackle with some newly received Congressional appropriations for research and development.

Humphrey leads agency applied research on emerging, disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and blockchain for potential use in supply chain risk management, supply chain security and logistics business processes.

"The benefits of a digital twin are endless, and the San Joaquin project will show how useful it can be to other major sub-commands and the agency for various projects that need to be viewed in multiple ways and in multiple scenarios," Humphrey said. "The modeling and simulation aspect of a digital twin can do all this in a virtual environment and provide recommendations for the best way to move forward, saving DLA time, money, and resources."

The San Joaquin site's layout has long presented one of the property disposal network's biggest challenges, according to leaders in the Operations directorate. In November, the development team interviewed San Joaquin site staff, performed laser measurements, and conducted thorough time motion studies of site operations. The area manager provided current production numbers, enabling the time motion results, measurements, and production data to be rolled into a baseline model showing how efficiently the facility currently operated in its current configuration. A highly accurate virtual replica now exists, where all the alternative possibilities can be tested.

"With a digital twin, we're gaining efficiencies without spending money," said Process Engineer Eric Mills. "How would you like to be able to lay out a warehouse from the comfort of your own home, and give everyone a vote, where every stakeholder could potentially play with the model - and it costs you nothing?"

Helle said that if the effort is deemed a success at San Joaquin, based on an expected increase in production, decreased overtime, and improved safety, the follow-on question will likely be, "Where to next?" The warehouse modernization team at DLA Distribution might like it. DLA Document Services is interested as well.

"Let's do it right the first time and put the entire thing into a digital twin," Helle said, "where we can make data-based decisions, we can design it and run a production dashboard based on real data at a low cost."

Helle imagines a future where there's a digital twin for every DLA Disposition Services primary warehouse facility. A virtual repository where leaders can test essentially any scenario they can think of, without disrupting real-world work and funding only to learn the change didn't provide the expected results. Helle and Mills hope to see DLA continue to use the digital twin as a virtual laboratory for exploring ideas.

"The potential for modernization and efficiency gains through these simulations is incredible," Mills said. "The different scenarios you can run are nearly unlimited. We believe this tool will provide DLA with the flexibility and real-time data to make quick, smart decisions."