A Success Story from Cognex
Fixed-mount barcode readers
Vision-enabled barcode readers with the ease-of-use and cost of laser scanners
The need for ID code reading rises as distribution facilities increase the level of automation and establish higher quality standards. Code reader accuracy, speed, and size as well as price all become more important. One such facility, a dietary supplement company, recently built a new distribution center, utilizing the latest technology to increase productivity and ensure order accuracy. Each package is scanned in the order induction area, again as it passes each picking bay to determine whether it contains products stored in that bay, in the quality control area, and several more times to select the correct loading dock. The integrator that designed and installed the automation system was challenged to find an ID reader that could deliver nearly hundred percent read rates, handle line speeds of 30 packages per minute, read codes on boxes, shipping labels, packing labels and invoices. It also all needed to be economically price and as compact as possible. The Cognex DataMan 300 image-based ID reader fit the necessary requirements and 18 of these image-based readers are working efficiently in the operation.
Workflow of the order fulfillment
The dietary supplement company has developed a large online business worked with Carter Controls to provide the conveyor sortation and manifest processing equipment for its new distribution center. The process of order fulfillment starts with the system automatically defining the appropriately sized box for an incoming order based on the size and number of items in the order. A carton erector makes the carton and merges it into the system on a conveyor running at a speed of around 29 or 30 packages per minute. The order induction station prints the invoice and drops it into the box and prints a packing label and applies it to the box. The box travels past a series of Pick2Light paperless pick and put systems that provide an efficient and accurate form of manual product selection and placement. Cameras positioned at the entrance to each Pick2Light bay scan the barcode on each packing label to make the decision of diverting or not diverting the package into that specific bay. Packages are diverted only if the order includes items that are stored in that bay.
At each Pick2Light station, operators are guided visually by lights to the exact location from which the ordered articles are to be picked. With an inbuilt sensor, the device also signals when the incorrect item has been picked. When the box is filled with product, it goes to a quality control area where the code is read once again and the box is weighed. The system verifies the weight of the box to see if it matches the weight of the products it should contain. If there is a mismatch, the box diverts to an offline manual station where operators resolve packages that the quality control station has rejected. The operator first removes the invoice and puts it flat on the table so a camera can capture an image of it for archiving. The corrections need for the order are then manually done by the operator.
Following the station for quality control, another station drops collateral such as coupons into the package. The package then travels to the manifest station where a shipping label is printed and the shipping label and packing labels are read and checked to be sure they match. The dietary supplement company uses several different shippers and devotes a shipping bay to each shipping company. The warehouse automation system determines the best shipping company for each order and prepares a shipping label. The main conveyor line travels past each of the shipping bays and at the entrance to each bay a camera reads the shipping label on each box and based on the label the box is diverted into the appropriate bay.
Vision system selection
Laser barcode scanners would have been used in the past on this application however, they had concerns about read rates, especially in areas that they had to read the box. The DataMan barcode readers used in this application deliver more robust and dependable performance, such as in reading the relatively low contrast barcodes on the sides of the box. Yet the cost of the image-based readers has dropped to the point where they cost the same as or less than laser scanners. These image-based barcode readers also are easier to communicate with so they reduce the overall time and cost required for implementation of the system. These inexpensive, small, fast, and powerful imagers added to the realization of the distribution center.