Sensible Technologies was founded by Herb Taylor in his garage with the idea of providing a simpler and less expensive system for service bureau that mails large volumes of documents. The other major manufacturers of mailing systems for this market offer systems with a significantly higher level of complexity. As part of its mission to offer the same capabilities for a lower total cost of ownership, Sensible Technologies decided to instead use, from its very first system, an integrated code reader with lighting, camera, positioning, and software all in one package.
When the company experienced performance and support problems with the barcode reader it first used, it switched to Cognex DataMan® 100 readers. With over one hundred DataMan 100 readers now operating at customer sites, the readers have demonstrated the performance, configurability, and reliability needed to successfully handle a wide range of applications. “We frequently need to set up our systems to handle unusual documents which often boils down to the capabilities of the code reader,” Taylor, who is now Vice President of Research and Development, said. “The combination of the DataMan 100’s configurability and Cognex support has given us the ability to handle every challenge that has been thrown at us.”
High volume mailing challenges
High volume mailing systems of the type made by Sensible Technologies are primarily used by service bureaus that print and mail statements and invoices for mortgage servicers, credit card companies and other high volume mailers. One of the greatest challenges of designing these machines arises from the fact that statements and invoices for different customers often have several pages. So it becomes important to ensure that each customer gets all of the pages of his or her statement and nothing more. In some cases, sending a statement page to the wrong customer can lead to a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) which protects the privacy of healthcare information.
Mailing systems meet this challenge by reading a barcode on every page that provides a unique identifier for the statement or invoice. In the past, this was typically an OMR or 1-D barcode but today most mailers use 2-D codes because they can store so much more information in much less space. Reading the codes just before folding the documents and inserting them into an envelope makes it possible to ensure the integrity of each statement or invoice. Often the barcode is read again through the glassine window of the envelope to provide a final check that the document has been completed and mailed.
The established companies in this market make systems that can sell for up to $1,000,000. One of the reasons for the high cost of these machines is that most of them use a vision system consisting of a camera, an image processing card, and image processing software running on a personal computer. These modular machine vision systems are relatively expensive and a considerable expense is also involved in integrating the components during the design process. Finally, the responsibility for maintaining these machine vision systems, such as replacing components that have failed and installing software upgrades, represents a burden for the service bureau that operates the system.
Simpler and less expensive approach
Sensible Technologies had a vision for a high volume mailing solution that is simpler and less expensive to purchase and operate. The company developed a line of feeder/folders that are fully integrated with reliable intelligent inserters. The Classic system handles 24,000 documents per hour ranging from 8.5 X 11 inches to 8.5 X 14 inches and 10,000 envelopes per hour. The Luxe system handles 40,000 documents per hour ranging from 8.5 X 11 inches to 8.5 X 14 inches and 11,000 envelopes per hour.
The inserter solutions feature a simple design and user friendly software that makes them more durable, dependable, and easier to operate and service than the leading cutting-edge systems. Sensible Technologies’ output verification solutions read and report each document as it is processed, providing correct sequence assurance and producing a full audit trail verifying each envelope’s completion.
The company decided from the very beginning to take advantage of the new generation of barcode readers that provide a camera with image processing hardware and software within a protective enclosure. The integrated approach is considerably less expensive than buying and integrating the components required for the traditional method. The integrated readers are also simpler to operate and maintain.
New reader makes a difference
Sensible Technologies originally selected one of the leading integrated barcode readers and successfully used it in its first few products. However, as its customers’ mailings became more complicated, the company found that the previous reader was unable to meet the requirements for many of its applications. “We switched to Cognex DataMan 100 because their DataMan verification system is faster and more configurable and because Cognex offers a higher level of service,” Taylor said.
DataMan 100 readers can be mounted to a fixed location or used together with an optional 10-inch X-Z adjustable stand. The unit includes adjustable 30/45 degree low angle lighting and 90 degree diffuse on-axis lighting (DOAL) lighting for the wide range of applications. Adjustable optics enable verification of codes with cell sizes as small as 7.5 mils and as large as 25 mm or 1 inch. The DataMan 100 verification system conforms to ISO15426-2 verification system standards and has been tested to comply with the results of Judge-certified cards from GS1. The system includes a control box with integrated I/O, power, and lighting quick connect cable.
Sensible Technologies’ design uses an encoder to track the position of the leading edge of the paper. The encoder communicates with a Mitsubishi programmable logic controller (PLC). The PLC fires the reader using a digital output when the reader is positioned over the code. Servo motors that can achieve top speed in milliseconds are used to drive the rollers that move the paper through the machine. The paper speed can exceed 150 inches per second so each page passes through the machine in between 50 and 75 milliseconds. Within that time period the DataMan 100 needs to read the code and send it to the PLC. Despite its low cost, the Cognex DataMan 100 reader can capture and decode a 2-D Data Matrix code in under 15 milliseconds and transfer it to the PLC in 10-15 milliseconds.
“We operate at the high end of the capability of everyone’s product,” Taylor said. “There is nothing standard in mailing in America so we frequently run into applications that stretch the limits of our code readers. There are laws as to when mail needs to be sent so we often face tough time constraints. We now have over 100 systems in the field using DataMan 100 code readers. Cognex stands behind me 100% by providing high quality support on a very timely basis. We have not run into a single application that we were not able to able to successfully accomplish with the DataMan 100.”
Migrating to the next level
Taylor said the company is planning to migrate to the new Cognex DataMan 500 for its next generation of products which will provide substantially higher speeds than its current products. DataMan 500 is the first ID reader to be powered by a proprietary vision chip. The chip enables DataMan 500 to offer unprecedented speeds on 1-D barcode reading with up to 90 decodes per second (as opposed to the DataMan 100’s 45 decodes per second) and ultra fast image acquisition with autoexposure, at up to 1,000 frames per second. DataMan 500 is so easy to use that it doesn't have to be optimally positioned to achieve high read rates. Trigger-free reading and ultrahigh frame rates make it easy to set up new applications. DataMan 500 readers provide flexible lens options and field-interchangeable lighting that provide a greater depth of field than other image-based barcode readers.
“A simple design and user-friendly software makes our systems easier to operate and service than other leading systems,” Taylor concluded. “Our technologies can integrate with existing inserting equipment while delivering high productivity with less expensive and faster feeding modules, reducing cost per piece. Cognex DataMan readers play an important role in delivering these benefits. Their configurability makes it easy to handle a wide range of mailing applications. The DataMan reader is an industrial platform designed for ease of use and troubleshooting which means that things rarely go wrong with it. When they do, our customers can usually fix the problem themselves. Most important, by providing a high level of support, Cognex gives us the confidence of knowing that we can configure our machine to handle virtually any application.”