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Cognex Barcode Readers Keep Pace with Diverse Product Configurations

Bluhm systems 2 wrapped tires conveyor belt

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Delivery of thousands of different tire packages with lightning speed is only possible by means of rapid labeling and reliable code reading.

IHLE Baden-Baden AG, one of the most high performance tire and wheel wholesalers in Europe, is now part of the Michelin Group. Wholesalers do not only make their living from attractive prices and good service, for them well functioning logistics is absolutely essential. Solutions from Cognex and Bluhm systems ensure consistently efficient processes. 

Sometimes aluminum wheels are required, because anything else would not match the vehicle! Selection of tires and wheels is sometimes just as important a decision as buying the car – the variety seems endless. The wholesaler IHLE stores one million tires and rims in an area of 57,000 square meters in a central warehouse in Muggensturm, Baden-Württemberg. IHLE sends daily several thousand packets and stacks of these items to car dealers and car accessories chains throughout Europe. At peak times, this corresponds to up to 14 shipments per minute.

Christian Lech, Technical Director of IHLE AG, explained: "Our trouble-free, computerized logistics make shortened delivery times possible and give satisfied customers. The high-speed pressure dispensing systems of Bluhm Systeme networked with our system make an important contribution: These reliably label our goods every four seconds, ensuring that they are always sent to the correct recipients!" Cognex scanners read the codes on the labels and ensure correct delivery via rapid data synchronization in the control system.

It starts with the order number

After order entry, consignment employees move the ordered tires and rims by forklift from the warehouse space to the dispatch center. There, shipping employees scan product labels, check the order, and place a small bar code sticker with the order number on the goods. The next stop is the shrink wrap tunnel where stacked products are welded together. Then the stacks, which can consist of up to four tires, are conveyed to the Legi-Air 6000 labeling unit.

Above the conveyor path, Cognex DataMan barcode readers capture the data on the packages which are passing rapidly by in chaotic order (Figure 1). DataMan readers are versatile and employed in clocked (high-speed) lines. It offers various lighting and lens variants and an intelligent auto-tune function for easy adjustment. This function automatically sets optimum parameters for lighting, autofocus and image sensors. The controllable lighting and the liquid lens with its variable focus ensure optimal adjustment of working distance, depth of field and field of view. The large picture memory of the scanner makes it possible that reading operations in the buffer memory can be analyzed immediately.

Christian Lech stated: "The identification systems scan the order number on the small bar code stickers, even through packaging film, and send this information to the dispatch control software." The program converts the message into print data for shipping labels and delivery slips, and sends this information to the printer integrated in both label printing dispensers.

Then follows the shipping label

The Avery print module integrated in the first labeler then prints a shipping label. This contains all the relevant information not only in plain text, but also in the form of machine-readable bar codes, as well as being encrypted in two-dimensional codes (Figure 2). Packages to be labeled reach the labeling unit within a few seconds after being scanned by the Cognex code readers. At very high speeds, the strain of difficult bar codes and 2D codes requires particularly precise operation of the printhead – no problem for the Avery printing module from Bluhm Systeme, which can very rapidly and accurately create high quality print images with ultra-fine type, small logos and two-dimensional data matrices or QR codes.

Depending on the order, the height of tire stacks can vary from 160 to more than 700 millimeters. Therefore, the labeler must not only be able to recognize different heights, but also instantly adjust to them. The stamp arm of the Legi-Air 6000 can deal with height differences of up to 500 millimeters in less than half a second (Figure 3).

On to the destination with the delivery slip

The newly labeled goods travels further on the conveyor belt to the second Legi-Air 6000. It labels the goods with a self-adhesive delivery slip. Then Cognex DataMan 503 code readers check whether the order has been correctly and completely identified. These scanners are especially suited for logistics applications with high speeds, wide conveyor belts and large variations in freight item height. IHLE determines, among others, whether the order numbers match the products, delivery notes and shipping addresses by filtering through up to seven bar codes and data matrix codes to ensure that the respective number matches the respective label.

Cognex high-end readers are up to the task of reading different codes in rapid motion both under the foil and on it. With its suitable lighting, a very satisfactory reading rate of over 99% over the entire range from the smallest to the largest package can be achieved (Figure 4). Only after the database has confirmed an exact match of the combination of ID numbers are packages passed on to the shipping area.

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