Sourcing products from low labour cost countries has done much to bolster the profitability of most companies in the retail sector. When it comes to automated identification however, the low-tech practices of these manufacturers can cause time-consuming interface problems in the goods-in department at the retailer’s warehouse.
A typical application that has remained annoyingly manual is the reading of how many items are contained within a consignment. This quantity information is generally handwritten by the manufacturer on the SKU label on incoming cartons. Until now there has not been a system able to capture this data automatically with the required degree of accuracy.
There is one specialist however for whom the optical code reading of handwriting is a proven strength. The company is Prime Vision and it has recently applied its expertise to this problem for a major British retailer. It has engineered a solution that is now exceeding the contractual automatic read rate of 90% with less than 0.5% error rate.
The reason why this data capture problem has arisen is because the foreign manufacturers rarely have the technology to machine print quantity information on the carton. Language is often a barrier too. Most of the required auto ID information can be contained on the labels supplied to the manufacturer by the requisitioning retailer, for example in a bar code. However, variable information such as quantity cannot be pre-encoded and has to been handwritten or stamped on the carton when it leaves the factory. Ultimately this can lead to delays in getting the product to market.
The Prime Vision system that bridges the automation gap has a similar architecture to those used by the leading parcel sorting organisations. High-speed autofocus cameras capture an image of the carton whilst it is moving on conveyor lines into the warehouse. The system locates both the machine printed data and the handwritten quantity. In more than 90% of cases the product goes straight into stock and the stock management system is automatically updated. The remaining ‘no reads’ can also be put straight into stock as the quantity information is updated by Prime Vision’s video-coding solution.
The retailer concerned has two warehouses at its North of England location, receiving in the region of 10,000 items per hour. Prime Vision has installed four OCR systems on the in-feeds in one warehouse and six, in the other. All are fully integrated so that the video coding load is shared across the sites.