ifm efector’s Eugene Inbaraj, a Field Technical Support Engineer gives MHD an insight into the German company’s identification sensors and how they’re being used throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in warehouses and distribution centres.
The German tech company ifm efector, a manufacturer of industrial sensors and solutions of technical process by means of sensors, networking, and control systems, is equipping the supply chain and logistics industries with a range of advanced sensors to help with sorting and tracking products in warehouses and distribution centres.
Eugene Inbaraj, an electrical engineer has been working as a Field Technical Support Engineer at ifm for the past three years.
With the latest update in the O2I5xx multi-code reader, the company now offers optical character recognition (OCR), which Eugene says was introduced by vision-based tech companies back in the 1980s. It utilises vision technologies and methods to identify texts on packaging. This is used to check if an expiry date is properly labelled on a product or if its details are correct or incorrect.
Before businesses can deliver their products from a warehouse or DC to a retail store such as a supermarket, they can use OCR to ensure important dates are printed accurately on the product. With the uptake of IoT devices in industry, the exchange of data between manufacturer and retailer has made this process easier.
“With O2I5 series code readers we can read a single line barcode, 2D QR codes and do OCR with the same device,” Eugene says. “The processing is done on board of the camera, and it has various functions to identify which codes are being presented to it,” he adds.
“We cover a foundation of products from photoelectric, inductive and capacitive position sensors right up to complex systems where we investigate vibration analysis, condition-based monitoring, track and trace systems, vision systems, and we can help provide a complete solution package for a broad range of industries from that large portfolio.”
Eugene explains how code reading is a very big business in terms of track and trace. “It’s a broad umbrella of a symphony of different technologies coming together that provides insight of where the product is in the whole manufacturing process and supply chain.”
He says once it reaches the customers’ hands, they can trace its genealogy. This helps to identify counterfeits and help manufacturers in establishing lead times and stock levels, especially when there’s a short supply of raw material or components, or when there’s nothing available.
Each of these materials or products that are being manufactured will have some sort of code, and these will be fed back into a planning scheduler, Eugene says.
An example he gives is if someone is shopping at a local store and wants to know where a product was manufactured – depending on the product; they can find this out just by scanning something like a QR code. Additionally, they can ascertain as to whether the country of origin subscribes to the UN’s Human Rights policy, hence helping the customer make an ethical purchase.
“It helps the end-user to make a conscious decision on what product they’re buying, who’s touched it, who’s manufactured it, preventing counterfeit, and it also helps in reducing lead time and storage, and time to manufacture so the customer knows everything and every point of the process,” Eugene explains.
He says if a product doesn’t have a code, or if it has the wrong code or a bad expiry date, or if it’s contaminated, it can be difficult to trace its origins, i.e., discover where it was manufactured and its movements via the supply chain.
This can be a costly exercise because it makes it harder for the manufacturer to isolate the event and contain it.
“It’s also going to be very expensive if the customer decides to say ‘hey, you’ve got to take this back, and someone’s got to pay for the charges,’” Eugene says. “Someone’s got to pay for restocking and checking in on all the costs that goes along with that,” he adds.
He says nowadays code reading technology is seamlessly integrated with and linked to DCs and warehouses, making it easy for an end-user to make data-supported business decisions.
“In the future, you could see everything,” he says. “You probably wouldn’t even need to see a price tag if you walked through a door of a store. You’d just scan with your phone, and you can see what the price is.
“If you had augmented reality, it could even show up in your glasses – I think that’s going to be in the future – so we can have data everywhere.”
There are also foundation sensing technologies, which detect when doors are open and closed as well as determining when temperatures or pressures are too high that can be captured and tagged to a code on a product.
He says the code readers are complex sensors that are image-based and enhance warehouse and DC workers’ efforts.
Eugene explains how automation with code readers is great and will help with efficiency cost reduction. “It will be used for laborious and monotonous work that humans are currently doing,” he says, however, the challenge will be giving workers new employment that is fulfilling.
He says code readers and the ability to recode robots and the rise of automation IoT, are helping businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There was such a significant development of automated warehousing facilities, for instance,” he says. “And the number of online sales drove the level of automation that went just along with robots and these kinds of sensing technologies, and then you have the issue of order and travel disruptions, and without having stock, you couldn’t build anything.”
He says therefore it’s important to use code reading sensors to ensure the track and trace system is robust in a manufacturing facility.
“If one facility is running out of stock of a particular kind of material, then the system must be able to tell us we need to get it from somewhere else and how much is that is required to fulfil customer orders,” he says.
“Track and trace systems can help and has helped in these situations where war has disrupted logistics.”
He adds that ifm efector along with several other companies have been affected by the short supply of CPUs largely due to the impact COVID-19 and conflict is having upon global supply chains.
For more information on ifm efector, click here.