By Nick Tabet and Darrell Owen, Datalogic
Online and in-store shopping have converged, driven by technology that was once only available to industry-leading retail enterprises. Now technology helps retailers of any size create the modern shopping experience customers expect — convenient, fast, and increasingly effortless. Image and vision technology is the key to offering “anytime, anywhere” retail shopping and fast and efficient delivery.
From grocery to housewares, from one store to thousands, retailers that embrace and deploy technology differentiate themselves from their competition and endear themselves to their customers. Vision and imaging technology delivers these benefits for the enterprise and the customer by accessing more information with higher accuracy in real time. This real-time information enables an effective enterprise with end-to-end supply chain visibility from manufacturing to checkout, operating at peak performance, and delivering on customer expectations.
Vision and imaging technology benefits go beyond the supply chain as well. At the store level, image and vision technology improves inventory management, checkout efficiency, and loss prevention. Shoppers experience these benefits in the form of faster checkout, reduced frustration, and better pricing.
This first of a five-part series explains how to automate the supply chain using vision and imaging technology. Read all five articles to learn how vision and imaging technology can enhance retail operations to maximize profit and deliver an improved shopping experience.
Aggressive online entrants into retail have swiftly raised the bar for shopper expectations. By offering conveniences such as online shopping, real-time inventory, faster delivery times, and flexible returns, these new retailers are seizing market share and forcing competitors to rethink how they can best meet customer needs.
This is particularly challenging for traditional brick-and-mortar retailers that also offer online ordering, because they generally don’t have the logistics capabilities to support customers’ new expectations. Retailers with multiple channels need to create one comprehensive view of their supply chain to enable the most efficient decisions to meet customer expectations.
Automation, through the use of bar codes, helps retailers — but there are challenges to overcome. The first is finding and reading the bar code on a package. How does an automated system find a bar code that may be on any surface anywhere on a package? This challenge is magnified because packages are of random sizes and shapes. Another challenge with bar code automation is improving the readability of scanned codes. Labels are easily damaged from handling and storage conditions. When bar codes are unreadable, the required manual interventions instantly offset the benefits of automation.
Improving Bar Code Accuracy And Reliability
An emerging solution for automating the supply chain is the Digimarc BarcodeTM, a watermark technology used in packaging, retail, and other industries. A watermark is a unique symbol that can be embedded into printed images, labels, shipping container surfaces, and packaged goods.
Unlike traditional bar codes, the Digimarc Barcode is imperceptible to the human eye. Therefore, it can be repeated many times over the six sides of a package — without detracting from its design and without taking up valuable space.
This solution significantly improves the ease and speed of detecting coded information in an automated process. It also minimizes the impact of damage to a bar code from a tear or wrinkle. Manufacturers are now using Digimarc Barcodes on their preprinted labels, creating benefits that reverberate throughout the supply chain. This technology enables organizations to improve efficiency and accuracy of product movement and tracking through global supply chains. Shipping companies and intermediaries in the supply chain also benefit from reading the label and knowing what is in the package.
Improving Shipping Efficiency
With continued double-digit growth expected for e-commerce, shipping efficiency cannot be ignored. Because shippers charge by the cubic inch, selecting or creating the right size box (i.e., one that minimizes wasted air space) for each item before packaging is an effective way to lower costs. Imaging systems can help in the following ways.
Dimensioning — When selecting from a defined number of box sizes, imaging systems measure the volume that an item will occupy and select the best fit from the menu of boxes. This process, called dimensioning, minimizes wasted volume in boxes to minimize shipping costs. Dimensioning can be fully automated with an imaging solution that creates a 3-D image of the item to be packaged, and then identifies the shape and dimensions. The correct box size is automatically recommended by the solution.
Automated box-making — A significant trend in direct-to-consumer shipping is on-demand box-making to size. With this solution, imaging systems measure the volume that an item will occupy and communicate to the automated box-making machine that creases, cuts, and folds cardboard into the right size box.
Checkpoint — In addition to eliminating the guesswork about box sizes, imaging technology is used to prevent the operator from choosing an oversize box. This checkpoint deters operators from choosing an oversize box — a choice that is tempting because it is easier for operators to place in item in an oversize box than in a right size box.
Ensuring Label Compliance
New image-based scanners have the added capability of ensuring hazardous materials labeling compliance, a function not provided by older, laser-based technology. The way it works is an image-based scanner verifies the correct label is applied at the intended place on a box containing hazardous materials. This is particularly beneficial for compliance with the Department Of Transportation Hazardous Materials regulations. These regulations impact a wide variety of consumer products containing lithium batteries and other materials. Imaging technology thereby helps keep package handlers safe, prevents financial penalties and delays caused by improper labeling, and ensures good customer service.
Datalogic is a global leader in automatic data capture and industrial automation markets and a world-class producer of bar code readers, mobile computers, sensors for detection, measurement and safety, vision systems, imaging technology and laser marking systems. Datalogic offers innovative solutions for a full range of applications in the retail, transportation & logistics, manufacturing and healthcare industries. Datalogic products are used in over a third of the world’s supermarkets and points of sale, airports, shipping and postal services.
About the Authors
Nick Tabet - Vice President, Product Marketing
Nick is responsible for leading Datalogic’s Product Marketing group for fixed retail and transportation and logistics scanning applications to develop market-leading solutions for supermarket, grocery, mass merchandise, and drug stores as well as courier, express, and parcel logistics companies.
Darrell Owen – Vice President, Retail Sales Support
Darrell has over 30 years of experience in the development and implementation of industrial automation systems for manufacturing, transportation, distribution, and warehousing. He currently supports field teams implementing supply chain solutions at retail enterprises.