How Retail Uses Digital Twins

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Digital twins started as a way to leverage engineering simulation to improve product design. The Omniverse opens up digital twin tools and techniques to a much broader range of use cases. At Nvidia’s recent GTC conference, executives from Lowes and Kroger explained how digital twins are transforming retail, customer experience and logistics.

The biggest benefit is how digital twins make it easy to visualize complex relationships between physical things, including product placement, physical customer journeys, and the paths robots can take through shopping aisles for inventory and floor cleaning.

Managers and employees can discover how layouts, schedules, team movements and customer journeys interact in one visualization tool. They can also visually assess the impact of a new store layout, schedule, or technology that could impact cleaning, supply and staffing requirements.

Digital twins also have the potential to improve customer experiences in several ways. They can help clients connect the dots between home improvement projects, materials needed, and material costs. They can also help improve physical customer journeys within stores by arranging order lists in line with a route through the store.

Supercharging 3D at Lowe’s

Cheryl Friedman, vice president of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, described the company’s work on a new iOS app that automatically captures data about a home to simplify home improvement projects.

Homeowners and contractors can quickly measure a room and the app can estimate the number of materials and costs for various options. It can also prompt homeowners to find out the specs they may need when replacing appliances to minimize return trips. Consumers can also compare the cost of different paints, windows or doors differ by approach.

“There are few DIY projects that you can get through without needing some data about your home,” Friedman said. “All that information introduces some friction to home improvement trips.”

Emerging technology such as digital twins, mixed reality and computer vision are helping to capture data about the home and keep track of all the details to reduce this friction. The Lowe app uses the lidar built into the latest iPhones to quickly capture home measurements.

Lowe has tried working with 3D and simulation tools in the past using various commercial and proprietary tools. But this created friction as employees wanted to move data between departments. “We’re excited about Omniverse embracing Pixar’s USD because it creates an ecosystem that is accessible to everyone and this will boost our ability to use 3D at Lowe’s,” Friedman said.

Omniverse also helps bring all 3D data together in one place to view relationships between data previously stored in silos. This makes it easy to compare planograms describing desired store layouts to how stores are actually laid out. Later, she hopes that more simulation will help them improve scheduling for high-traffic shopping on Black Friday or optimize scheduling for robots cleaning floors and stock shelves.

Keeping it fresh at Kroger

Kroger investigates how digital twins can improve product freshness and optimize logistics. Kroger builds digital twin models that reflect product freshness, meat slicing schedules, and physical product layouts. The goal is to make sure all these moving parts run smoothly, so lines are short, meats and products are always fresh and warehouses are well organised.

Wesley Rhodes, vice president of technology transformation and R&D at Kroger, said, “It’s like a dance you have to practice ten times and you’ll get it right. Technology makes something complicated look easy.”

Kroger has been experimenting with various program optimization tools for some time now. But these were complicated for frontline workers to understand quickly. The visual nature of the latest built-in digital twin Omniverse helps employees and managers quickly make trade-offs and get feedback when things don’t go as planned. For example, they could see how a new layout could create traffic jams.

Rhodes found it helpful to borrow techniques from the aviation industry. For example, airlines use video analytics to analyze the boarding process. New computer vision tools can similarly capture data about existing processes to represent actual operations. This could help recalibrate the assumptions built into digital twins to increase the accuracy of the simulation.

Better packaging

Later, digital twins can also improve product packaging, said Richard Kerris, vice president of Omniverse Developer Platform at Nvidia. A product packaging is the first thing a consumer sees when he buys a product. But packaging designers have always struggled to understand what a container might look like after being dropped, under other lighting, or when stacked on shelves with competing products.

“You can get a realistic duplicate of the product packaging you’re designing and look at it in different contexts,” Kerris says.

For example, designers can simulate what different materials look like in the store or how a package will behave when picked up or put down. Designers can also simulate how different packaging designs can affect box packaging or individual shipping. It is best packed and shipped efficiently and securely. Digital twins of the product package help simulate and visualize what a product package might look like after being stacked in a shopping bag with many other products en route to a customer’s home.

“You don’t want something that could break or crush,” Kerris said.

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