Retail POS scanners: laser or linear imaging?

Tim Sawyer
It wasn’t too long ago that POS scanning options for the retail industry were simple: if you wanted to capture a barcode, you could choose to use a laser scanner or a contact scanner (also known as a CCD reader). However, if you wanted to read an item with any range involved, you needed to use a laser scanner, as it was the only effective methodology that could capture barcodes with a distance of up to 30 cm.
Lasers have always been ideally suited for logistics and warehouse applications where distance and range have been issues. Today, however, new technology has been developed that has resulted in major improvements to a host of POS products, including linear imaging scanners.
There are several benefits that linear imaging scanners now offer retailers, including range, lower maintenance costs, fewer public safety issues and a higher cost/savings ratio, making them a very attractive alternative to laser scanners. They are similar in range (up to 30 cm), they read the same symbologies, and connect to all of the same POS systems. (As a side comment, it should be noted that this is true only for handheld scanners: laser is still the only option for multi-directional scanners.)
But linear imagers also offer a big advantage over laser scanners in that they have no moving parts, meaning less maintenance over time. In a laser scanner, the laser light is focused through a lens and reflected off an oscillating mirror. Linear imagers use light emitting diodes (LEDs), illuminate the barcode then the sensor decodes the barcodes. This reduction in moving parts can translate into considerable savings in servicing costs, meaning a faster return on investment over laser scanners.
Another advantage is that, because linear imagers use LEDs, they do not have the public safety issues experienced with lasers. It has been definitively proven that laser light can damage human eyes if it is directed directly into them.
Perhaps the biggest benefit offered by linear imaging scanners over laser scanners is that they are more economical, with savings of up to $150 per scanner. For large retail applications that require many POS handheld scanners, this has considerable merit.
So the $64,000 question is, “Which one is right for my business?”
There is no cut and dried answer. If your retail establishment has any POS that requires scanning in an outdoor location, you should choose laser handheld scanners – they will outperform most linear imaging scanners in direct sunlight. However, for all other applications, you have the option of choosing linear imaging or laser. When looking at the overall implementation of hand held scanners, ask yourself three questions:
– Which expense will produce a greater return on my investment?
– Do I need the ability to scan over a distance greater than 30 cm?
– How much will servicing the units add to the initial investment?
The answers will give you all the information you need to make an informed and correct decision for determining whether laser or linear imaging is best for your application and needs.
Tim Sawyer is manager of Cipherlab Australia. For more information call 1300 247 437 or visit at

Australian RFID pilot delivers ePOD to industry

John Hearn
The results of Australia’s largest supply chain RFID pilot, the National EPC Network Demonstrator Project Extension (NDP Extension), are now available.
The NDP Extension was about demonstrating how EPC/RFID delivers business benefits in a real world environment, in this case, reliable electronic proof of delivery (ePOD). To do this, we needed to show that a scan rate of 100 per cent was absolutely achievable.
The pilot
The Australian Government supported the pilot with a $109,500 grant from the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) under its ‘Information Technology On-Line’ (ITOL) program.
GS1 Australia and RMIT University co-managed the pilot with Telstra and Retriever Communications as the service providers. Pallets were supplied by CHEP Asia-Pacific, while the pallet customers were ACCO Australia, Capilano Honey, Franklins/Westgate Logistics, Procter & Gamble/Linfox, and MasterFoods. NEC Australia also provided RFID support to CHEP.
More than 3,300 empty pallets were tagged so that the pallet hire and de-hire processes could be tracked using ePOD.
Tags were read when the pallets were picked against an order at CHEP and loaded onto a truck to be dispatched out to a customer (P&G, ACCO or MasterFoods), and read again after the truck driver had delivered the pallets to the customer. Pallets dispatched from Westgate Logistics’ facility for Franklins supermarkets were read at the time of picking for de-hire to CHEP, as well as at the time of receipt at CHEP.
Each set of pallets was associated with an order number using GS1’s unique serialised Global Returnable Asset Identifier (GRAI) written to each EPC/RFID tag as the basis of identifying individual pallets.
EPCIS (EPC Information Service) is the EPCglobal standard for how the EPC/RFID read information is managed and shared. Telstra’s EPCIS-compliant ‘Adaptive Asset Manager’ (AAM) communicated data to users via a web interface. Telstra was also able to send data to the CHEP truck driver’s PDA and the Retriever application meant the driver was able to observe the RFID reads.
There was no physical keying of any information. The Telstra AAM simply counted off the unique numbers at dispatch and then receipted those same numbers at delivery based on the RFID reads of pallet tags.
Telstra’s infrastructure (the AAM) meant information could be captured at different points through the process, providing visibility of goods through the supply chain and translating EPC/RFID reads into business transactions.
The top three lessons from the project
First, if you have the right team of talented people who have some experience and know-how, supported by good software and hardware, you can make RFID work. We’ve now had EPC/RFID success with wood, metal and moisture, achieving a consistent 100 per cent read rate.
Second, this was a real RFID implementation with real business transactions: real hire and de-hires, where no paperwork was used. The process was developed to a point where it could be left in production in a commercial sense.
Finally, we achieved real, identifiable savings – two of the CHEP customers reduced their process times by 14 and 22 per cent. Likewise, prior to the project, CHEP completed Six Sigma Kaizen analysis and identified that broader use of EPC/RFID could lead to a saving of 28 per cent in end-to-end processing time per journey.
Surprises and challenges
The surprise was that people are adopting the attitude that we don’t need a mandate. The challenge was 100 per cent read rates, especially given that we’d heard previously that only high nineties were do-able. The success of the project rested on our ability to achieve a 100 per cent read rate, and we did.
GS1 Australia’s objective is to share the learnings of this project and to encourage others to trial EPC/RFID. We want Australian industry to stop waiting, because other countries will soon leap ahead of us in efficiency.
As well as looking at what EPC/RFID will cost to implement, industry needs to examine what they can save by using this technology. Leasing infrastructure, such as the Telstra AAM solution, is also an opportunity to move RFID from a capital expenditure to an operational cost.
CHEP and Telstra were really attractive pilot participants given their existing infrastructure. If businesses started using RFID readers to read CHEP pallets in and out of locations all around Australia using the Telstra infrastructure to communicate, then thousands of companies will suddenly be capable of using RFID. They could then start to read stock movements from the end of a production line into a warehouse or track the movement of other goods coming in and going out. So, give it a year or two with CHEP rolling out these solutions and we could be looking at a really strong uptake of EPC/RFID in Australia, based purely on the business sense of tracking goods through the supply chain.
The NDP Extension report is available free of charge from GS1 Australia – visit
John Hearn is the general manager of member and industry support for GS1 Australia.

The multinational imperative for RFID in Australia

Craig Lennard
Radio frequency identification (RFID) has been one of the hottest issues in the global technology sector for the past few years. Despite first appearing in tracking and access applications in the 1980s, it is only in the past three years that the potential of RFID has been truly recognised. Using RFID tags, it is now possible to identify and track objects without time delays, without human intervention, and thus without variable costs. It is these benefits that have led leading industry commentator IDTechEx to forecast that 1.71 billion RFID tags will be sold worldwide in 2007 and to estimate the total RFID market value across all countries as being worth US$4.96 billion.
Unfortunately, here in Australia in 2007 we still appear to be waiting for the long predicted ‘take-off. Despite early innovative use of the technology, broad industry use of RFID is still sadly lacking.
The good news is that at long last there are signs that a change may be on its way. In the last twelve months in Australia there have been a small but highly diverse number of RFID implementations that are finally taking the technology beyond mere animal tracking into areas such as defence, supply chain, aged care, and correctional facilities.
Recent research by Frost & Sullivan shows that the Asia Pacific RFID supply chain market earned revenues of $170.3 million in 2006 and estimates that this figure will reach $646.3 million in 2013 . While most of this growth will initially occur in Asia, the factors influencing this uptake are expected to drive a gradual increase in RFID use in the Australian and New Zealand markets.
Those factors include maturing RFID standards, more capable technology at a lower cost, and a growing case-file of proven benefits such as process improvement and throughput, reduced asset loss and shrinkage, improved asset location, visibility and identity, and eliminating stock verification.
Possibly more than any other factor, however, it is the move towards RFID by large global organisations (such as major US and European retailers) that is driving market expectation.
By 2010 RFID is expected to have a major impact on most Australian business involved in the international production, movement or sale of physical goods. As business familiarity with RFID develops and a skilled local labour force emerges, a trickle-down effect will see RFID emerge in more and more industries, becoming an accepted and integral part of the Australian business toolkit.
The potential for the supply chain
With ever smaller, smarter and cheaper tags and readers, RFID is opening up amazing supply chain possibilities. Using RFID technology, companies can improve efficiency and visibility, cut costs, use assets better, produce higher quality goods, reduce shrinkage or counterfeiting, and increase sales by reducing out-of-stocks. In Europe, one of the earliest areas targeted for RFID was the large variety of Returnable Transport Items (RTI) in retail supply chains. RFID is helping to all but eliminate traditional complex and labour-intensive issues associated with the management, recording and administration of RTI.
For Australia, characterised by long shipping distances and relatively high labour costs, the supply chain is one of the areas of greatest potential for RFID and is likely to be one of the main influencers to widespread adoption. To date, the hurdle has been obtaining that first high-profile site. However, the international uptake of RFID is likely to help speed this process.
A sampling of other RFID applications that could readily benefit Australian business includes:
– Remote condition monitoring: Combining RFID tags with sensors to remotely monitor assets. Norwegian high-speed train operator FlytoGet had a problem with overheating of axle bearings, which could lead to wheel and track damage if not monitored regularly. Historically, monitoring was conducted manually at the end of each journey, a tedious and time consuming activity. With the introduction of RFID sensors, a system was implemented that uses active RFID tags on the axles to send temperature data back to a central collection point on the moving train, and then to back-end databases using GPRS wireless communications. The temperature of each axle on the moving train is visible in near real-time from anywhere in the world, via a web-based schematic user interface.
– Location of underground assets: Utility companies have major problems locating pipes and cables. The ability to accurately record the positions of buried assets and rapidly find them again has the potential to save utility companies significant amounts of time and effort.
– Location of underground staff: GPS location relies on line of sight to the overhead satellite network. In mines and tunnels this is not possible, but RFID provides a way for subterranean workers to find out their position whilst underground. RFID tags embedded in the walls of the tunnel at known locations provide reference points that can be identified via hand-held readers.
– Vehicle inventory management: Customer service delays caused by missing parts and equipment can be avoided by tracking the contents of the vehicles used by field representatives. This can be achieved by fitting vehicles with GPS receivers and recording what is put in and taken out of each vehicle. Central control then has an accurate real-time picture of where parts and equipment are located in the field, and can take appropriate action to minimise service delays.
– Tracking mobile assets: Mobile assets can be tracked in near real time to an accuracy of less than 3 m. This helps to maximise asset use, reduces theft and improves the speed of emergency response.
– Handling hazardous chemicals: RFID systems can be used to detect when illegal or dangerous combinations of hazardous chemicals are being stored in the same location. RFID-based sensor systems can trigger alarms when containers of hazardous chemicals are opened or moved without authorisation. NASA is using this technology to improve safety when handling hazardous chemicals at the Dryden research facility.
– IT inventory management: IT directors complain that they don’t know what IT assets they have or where they are located. Tagging equipment with either passive or active RFID has the potential to reduce theft and the administrative effort required to keep track of IT assets.
– Access control / permit to work: RFID tags carried by employees can be used to allow access to restricted areas. Access permission may depend on the employee having undergone specialised training and or wearing the correct combination of safety equipment.
Communication is critical
The good news for Australian companies is that by delaying their adoption of RFID until now, many of the teething problems of a new technology have been resolved. RFID has grown to become a stable and reliable technology. It is proven in numerous applications across the globe. Approaches to implementation have been widely discussed, studied and best-practices are already being established. A market for RFID skills exists, resulting in the growing availability of experienced staff for new projects. The cost of equipment has come down, with tags reaching commodity prices. And vendors have embraced standards, recognising that without them, the technology could not go forward.
Possibly the biggest challenge still facing RFID in Australia will not be seen until the first few high-profile supply chain implementations are ready and go live. Members of the supply chain will need to conform in order to transact with larger customers.
Craig Lennard is the managing director, industry, distribution and transportation, at LogicaCMG.

Vehicle-mounted computer

Psion Teklogix has released a fully featured computer that comes in a compact, lightweight frame, suitable for vehicles with limited mounting options.
The 8515 packs a can be deployed on a forklift in many industrial environments, such as in a warehouse or a port, or as a stationary terminal on a fixed mount application such as a warehouse data collection centre.
With its small footprint, the 8515 provides unobstructed visibility for forklift operators without compromising durability, and features a sharp 640 by 480 full-screen VGA colour display. The bright, touch-sensitive display is readable in most lighting conditions.
The 8515 has optional features such as Psion Teklogix ‘Mobile Control Centre’. MCC software enables the deployment and ongoing management of mobile devices and their peripherals remotely and securely. The 8515 also provides a speaker/microphone to support push-to-talk technology that together with PTX Connect replaces a ‘Walkie-Talkie’ by using voice-over-IP technology.

Barcode scanner

Motorola (formerly Symbol Technologies) has produced a rugged barcode scanner, the LS3408ER, that will scan barcodes from as close as 130 mm to as far as 14.6 metres, giving the versatility needed in today’s industrial applications. 
Using high performance laser technology, the LS3408ER is totally immune to outside sunlight and will provide long- and short-range barcode scanning ability for both inside low lit buildings and outdoors in direct sunlight.  The onboard flash memory means that this barcode scanner can be operated without connecting cables and then later linked to your PC for batch-uploading of tasks completed via USB, RS232 or Keyboard Wedge.
The rugged ergonomic casing is comfortable, durable and able to withstand repeated drops onto the concrete floor from up to 2 meters ensuring limited downtime due to breakage.  A large LED screen and extra loud beeper makes it perfect for noisy environments, and is able to withstand extreme temperatures ranging from -30º to 50º.


Ultra-rugged computer

Intermec is now shipping the CK32IS handheld computer, which provides industries like chemical, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, grain, textile and mining with a powerful, intrinsically safe, extremely rugged handheld computer. The CK32IS is claimed to carry the most extensive list of global hazardous environmental ratings of any handheld computer, so it can be deployed anywhere in the world.
The CK32IS was designed from inception for hazardous environments, meeting the most stringent requirements not only for flammable gases, vapours, liquids, but also for dust, fibres and shavings. The mobile computer has been ATEX-certified for use in Zone 0 (gases) and Zone 20 (dusts and fibres) environments – the highest possible safety ratings, requiring double-fault protection of circuitry. In addition, the product’s accessories meet the latest associated apparatus certifications to provide the highest level of safety.
The Windows Mobile 5.0-based handheld computer features a fast Intel XScale PXA270 processor, 128 MB of DRAM memory and 64 MB of non-volatile Flash memory. It supports Intermec TE2000 terminal emulation software to run legacy applications and has a full suite of audio capabilities to enable interactive VoIP, walkie-talkie applications, and digital recording applications.

Container tracking trials

Schenker has fitted out ten of its containers with special sensors in addition to RFID technology. These GPS security devices communicate the current GPS coordinates, temperature levels and security parameters (like door activities). The transport units are in regular use between Hamburg and Hong Kong.

The first test phase for the RFID technology has been successfully completed. RFID status notifications communicate the most important points where liability changes hands, when the containers are loaded and unloaded at the packing stations in Hamburg and Hong Kong, as well as the time of arrival at the terminal. This gives a clear view of when and where the load is being transshipped.

"It is becoming clear that this technology will be ripe for serial production in the near future. At least the RFID technology promises to be suitable for use on a wide scale, from a business point of view as well," commented Dr. Wolfgang Dräger, Senior Vice President, PM Ocean Freight, Schenker AG.

The new GPS sensors give information at regular intervals about conditions in the container: is it cold or hot, are there any sudden temperature changes? Does the container get shaken up in the course of the journey? Does it deviate from the planned route? These and other data are compiled in a report, which Schenker can then consult. "As soon as this technology is ready for serial production, it will open up new possibilities of service to our particularly demanding industrial customers," explained Dr. Wolfgang Dräger. "For example, the temperature of pharmaceutical products and other sensitive goods can be continuously monitored, which could come out cheaper in the long term than transporting them in refrigerated containers, provided that the appropriate temperature tolerances can be guaranteed."

It is a similar situation with goods that are vulnerable to shock, like laptops and other valuable articles. Even if it is not possible to prevent the goods from being shaken about at all, at least you can determine in retrospect when and where they have been exposed to shock and what has occurred. Finally it is possible to determine when and where the door of the container has been opened. If this happens unexpectedly or the door is forced, an alarm is triggered and at the same time appropriate security measures will be initiated.

RFID specialist joins CHEP

As RFID manager at CHEP, Gerry Wind will drive the development of ‘track and trace’ systems on high-profile projects for CHEP customers.

Gerry Wind brings a passion for technology and automation, coupled with 23 years’ experience in RFID, supply chain management and logistics. His particular expertise is in developing RFID infrastructure that integrates with business systems to improve the efficiency of supply chain processes.

Gerry Wind has advised government and industry on RFID and addressed conferences across the globe. More recently at Telstra, his team developed an Adaptive Asset Manager system that enables live demonstration of RFID readers with updated results on a ‘dashboard’.

An all rounder, Gerry Wind is widely travelled and fluent in two languages. His diverse career includes time in Uganda as project manager for a charitable organisation, and as a consultant with Sunshine Technologies. He also managed 152 staff at Australia Post’s State Parcels Centre in Queensland.


NZ award for container lifter

STEELBRO New Zealand Limited took out both the Global Operator and Supreme overall award for medium/large enterprises at the recent 2007 Annual Champion Canterbury Awards.

The awards were presented by the Prime Minister, Helen Clark.  The Champion Canterbury Awards are now widely recognised as the largest of their kind in New Zealand.

Peter Townsend, Chairman of Champion Canterbury Ltd. says the award recognises the innovation, tenacity and sheer hard work to succeed. 

“STEELBRO is a very worthy recipient of the Supreme Champion Canterbury Award.  As a multi-generational contributor to the Canterbury economy and a company that is well versed at competing worldwide with products that find ready markets in a myriad of countries, this is a well-deserved accolade.”

STEELBRO has developed a successful self-loading trailer (sidelifter) container handling technology. Claimed to be the world’s best-selling sidelifter system, STEELBRO exports the units to over 100 countries worldwide.

Queensland infrastructure crisis

The Queensland infrastructure crisis has reached a new low with Michael Roche announcing a “new wave of industry activism” weeks before the release of the Goonyella Supply Chain review writes Daniel Hall.

Roche made the call after announcing that a coal transport rail corridor between the northern Bowen Basin and the Abbott Point export terminal in Queensland had been given the green light by coal companies.

“Despite the project’s potential to consolidate future growth, there is no hiding the fact that industry’s interest in the Northern Missing Link and expansion of the Abbott Point coal terminal is a direct response to the difficulties being experienced along the Goonyella corridor,” he says.

Roche says that seven companies interested in using the 69 kilometre Northern Missing Link had confirmed with the Queensland Competition Authority (QCA) their willingness to underwrite early works costs undertaken by the State Government-owned Queensland Rail Network Access (QRNA).

Queensland Rail (QR) has welcomed confirmation that mining companies are willing to underwrite early works costs for the project in North Queensland.

The early works costs associated with the 69-kilometre Northern Missing Link are estimated to be worth $27 million and will be recouped by the State Government through QRNA via independently determined rail price arrangements, regardless of whether the project proceeds.

“Once endorsed by customers the cost with the early works will, upon completion of the early works, be included

in QRNA’s regulated asset base for the Goonyella System,” a QR spokesperson says.

“Access charges for the operation of coal services on QRNA’s rail infrastructure is based on recouping the capital charge (depreciation and return) as well as maintenance and operating costs as agreed with the Queensland Competition Authority.”

“Final go-ahead will depend on execution of port and rail contracts by the companies, which will in turn depend on the economic findings of this early stage engineering and design,” Roche told the Rail Summit.

Roche’s call for a new wave of industry activism may have been heard by QRC’s largest member companies.

During a whistle-stop visit to Brisbane, Rio Tinto boss Tom Albanese told reporters that the backlog plaguing Australia’s east coast ports is among the top five problems facing the mining giant’s global operations.

Albanese said Rio Tinto will redirect its expansion plans offshore if the Queensland Government does not provide vital infrastructure, prompting Queensland Premier Peter Beattie to meet with him to smooth over relations.

Roche says that unprecedented growth in the industry is responsible for the delay in haulage capability up to a point.

“There’s no embarrassment in saying that the demand for coal has caught both the industry and logistics suppliers by surprise,” Roche says.

“However, there is embarrassment, coupled with major financial penalties for service users, when infrastructure providers cannot manage to deliver contracted capacity.”

“Resource companies should not be hamstrung by their logistics suppliers. Communication must extend to customers, regulators and shareholders to eliminate ‘suprises’ which cost throughput, drive up demurrage bills and encourage buyers to look elsewhere for reliable supply,” he says.

Expressing disappointment with Roche’s comments, Queensland Rail says QR and industry partners

are midway through the independent review of the Goonyella Coal Supply Chain.

“We’ve received a lot of attention recently about performance in the coal business and we’ve certainly heard our customers’ concerns,” says the QR spokesman.

“QR has always accepted that we could have performed better, but like all industry players the size and scope of global demand for coal was not forecast.”

“QR’s attention now is finding short term gains in the supply chain to meet immediate customer needs and to roll out long-term infrastructure and rolling stock upgrades to meet growth through to the end of the decade and beyond.”

The QRC’s independent review of the Goonyellla coal supply chain, due early August, has been supported by the Queensland government and QR.

According to Roche, the review is expected to highlight the need for strategic coordination of the coal chain master planning process, greater transparency on operational issues and performance, and an agreed set of measures to asses how the system is operating.



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