The NHS supply chain is deploying digital twinning technology at the heart of its new custom built warehouse development.
NHS Supply Chain Suffolk Park is a new development located in Bury St Edmunds. Operated by Unipart Logistics, this custom built RDC opened as planned in May 2020, despite the coronavirus pandemic. Unipart has deployed digital twinning as a critical part of the response to any future crisis. This enabled layout modelling for the 147,000 sq ft facility to take place remotely which reduced the need for travel and was consistent with social distancing guidelines.
The new facility is twice the size of the existing Bury St Edmunds facility and is designed to meet and fulfil the future needs of the NHS supply chain network and those of its customers.
What is digital twinning?
Digital twinning is one of the most interesting technologies to emerge from Industry 4.0 and one of the most effective construction tools during the Covid-19 lockdown. Using sensors to map physical assets to a digital platform, digital twinning can improve inventory efficiency and real-time status. It also has obvious applications in construction, an industry that has been slow to digitise.
Its value during the coronavirus pandemic is obvious, allowing Unipart to digitally capture and replicate the Suffolk Park site through state of the art 3D laser scanning. The digital twin was used to check measurements and test different design solutions remotely without the need to physically visit the site.
The benefits of using digital twinning technology are obvious. By testing layouts and operational solutions, Unipart was able to eradicate errors, improve safety and identify cost savings. In addition, the project was under constant review using VR and AR technology. The NHS supply chain site in Bridgewater also uses digital twinning technology to support stock allocation and resource management.
In fact, digital twinning is also in use across both NHS supply chain sites to keep them covid secure. By plotting one-way routes across the Bridgewater site, the spread of the virus was limited without impacting on productivity. Digital tours of the site also reduced the number of visitors.
In Suffolk, the technology proved invaluable at meeting the unique challenges posed by a construction project taking place during a pandemic. Deadlines continued to be met and at the peak of the crisis, Unipart was able to introduce Covid-19 Secure working practices.
This guidance, including strict hygiene and distancing measures, has been put in place across all Unipart's logistic sites. Employees use an online tool, the Social Distance S, to analyse and record the way in which social distancing standards are being used. This commitment to secure work practices has been recognised by the British Safety Council International Safety Awards.
Opening a new RDC in such unprecedented circumstances has proved a significant milestone. By centring digital twinning technology at the heart of construction as well as logistics, Unipart has displayed the kind of innovation and agility that can serve as a blueprint for future projects.