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Mobile & Wireless: Keeping an eye on visualization

September 30, 2011

We have all heard about the advantages of voice technology in the DC: hands free and eyes free picking. What about a vision-based data collection system that is essentially hands free and ears free?

That’s a concept developed by Knapp Logistics Automation. The solution integrates a wearable, head-mounted display and camera to direct picking activities and capture information – I’ll provide more on how it works in a moment. It was developed in conjunction with a European pharmaceutical distributor that is using the solution in Estonia.

“The ability to capture and trace serial and lot information as well as security are becoming big issues in the medical, pharmaceutical and health care markets,” says Jerry Johnson, marketing manager for Knapp in the US. “This technology adds visualization to a picking process that might otherwise have been pick-to-light, voice or handheld bar code scanning up to this point.”

The operator wears a head piece that includes a visual display to guide the operator along the optimal route for picking and a camera-based imaging system that can identify and capture product identification information, including lot and serial numbers that might be contained in a QR code. 

In that sense, the system is doing with one technology what a multi-modal voice and bar code scanning solution does with two technologies: instead of confirming a pick with voice and capturing lot and serial number by scanning a bar code, the camera does both.

The system works like this. When the operator looks into the display, arrows tell him to turn left or right or continue straight ahead. At the picking location, a QR code is highlighted in the display as is the picking bin and the number of items to be picked from that bin.

As the operator removes the items from the bins, the camera confirms the pick and removes the picked items from inventory. In addition to capturing an image of the QR code, the camera captures images of the picking process that can be stored on a server if there is a question about the order at a later date.

If you make a wrong pick, the error is highlighted in the display. The system also prevents the operator from moving on to the next task until the right item is picked.

“The ROI comes from accuracy and security,” says Johnson. “In the Estonia implementation, it has been 100% accurate. And, as with pick-to-light, you can have multiple operators in a zone because the system will optimize the pick routes.”

In verticals where information like lot, serial or catch weight is important, it strikes me that the ability to automatically capture that additional information with one step rather than two is another potential benefit.

More importantly, at Modern, we’re seeing more providers incorporate some aspect of visualization into their solutions. It’s a trend we plan to watch.

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About the Author

Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.


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