Computer Vision central in automation of logistics centers

Automation in sorting centers and warehouses will remain a hot topic in the coming years, while manual handling of packages and goods will eventually die out.

Automation in sorting centers and warehouses will remain a hot topic in the coming years, while manual handling of packages and goods will eventually die out. Increasingly, flexible, scalable solutions are being added in existing buildings. Systems are also getting smarter: through Computer Vision and IoT, they not only tell you what is going on yesterday and today, but also what will happen tomorrow.

Key to the (r)evolution of parcel handling is Computer Vision, the core business of the Delft-based company Prime Vision. Computer Vision tracks, controls, monitors and optimizes all processes in the logistics center. The number of cameras used to monitor and analyze what they see is growing and will continue to grow. Vision makes it possible to detect deviations and provide feedback, so that they can be corrected and processes further optimized. 

In addition, cameras are increasingly following packages or items in internal means of transport, a kind of extra insurance for valuable items that are usually also equipped with trackers. The simultaneous monitoring via trackers and cameras will be accurate to the meter.

What are we talking about when we talk about anomalous processes? Think about parcels falling, duplicated parcels, delays, queues or poorly filled pallets. Vision can ensure that items are placed in or on the correct internal transport systems (e.g. Automated Guided Vehicles, or robots) or in the correct transport truck or lorry.

Precise robots

Where Vision components see imperfections, robots can be used to correct them. This can be done in addition to or instead of people working in the logistics center. Consider robotic arms that take packages from the container and then place them on a sorting belt. Autonomous robots, such as the Robins from Prime Vision, can take over tasks that can be dangerous for humans, such as lifting and moving heavy objects or dangerous goods. Also, these robots are many times more productive than humans.

”At every trade show where postal, parcel and fulfillment logistics are discussed, you see new machines that can handle items of all shapes and sizes,” says Prime Vision consultant Hans Jongebloed. ”Many of these machines consist of or feature automation that is becoming increasingly precise in the handling of objects.”

Here, too, the combination with Vision offers seemingly endless possibilities. Sorting machines in combination with Computer Vision, are increasingly capable of recognizing and handling any item, regardless of the information on the label, packaging, weight, dimensions or shape. This will reduce the number of items that cannot be processed on the sorting machine to virtually zero. Jongebloed: ,,This results in a lot of savings.”

Robots are not only emerging on or next to the sorting machine, but also on the way there. Robots do not only sort parcels, they can also automatically pick orders and transport pallets, hampers and (roll) containers from A to B.

Sensors and trackers

Sensors are also used in the logistics process (RFID, Bluetooth). Just like the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI), you can use sensors to guarantee a chain of custody, so that you always know where your belongings are and check whether your logistic processes are running as they should (Digital Twin).

In an ideal situation, the combination of IoT and Vision ensures that nothing is ever lost again. It is also a good way to know where in a sorting center or warehouse too many people are concentrated, or on the contrary too few. In the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the relevant questions was: can workers keep enough distance from each other?

At Prime Vision, the combination of Computer Vision, trackers and spatial elements is called Smart Scene Understanding. This way of working not only locates objects, but by analyzing the data found, it is also possible to adjust tactics and to predict the next logical step. For example, are your roll cages or crates in the wrong place, causing a shortage somewhere else? When these assets are equipped with trackers, you can anticipate and reroute in a timely manner so that business operations are not interrupted.

“Where do I go?’’

Trackers determine the ‘who am I’ and ‘where am I’ of assets, but they don’t know the answer to questions like ‘how full am I’, ‘do I have the right items with me’ and ‘where do I need to go next’. With a combination of IoT and cameras, you can answer these kinds of questions. Computer Vision data is combined with that of trackers and by using the right business rules, processes can be further optimized.

Optimization is what you ultimately want to achieve with smart automation, in multiple areas simultaneously. Faster, more efficient, more accurate logistics and production. But also: optimum deployment of people – taking into account their well-being – and of course as sustainably as possible.

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