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Dec 21, 2013

Automatic Box / Case Labeling Bar Code Scanners

When it comes to automatic box labeling systems, the use of a bar code scanner is often needed. In fact, it is quite rare that a system will not have at least one scanner.

automatic labeling

We use two separate bar code scanners to do two different jobs. The first is referred to as a “pre-identification” scanner, and the second is called a “verification” scanner.

The function of a pre-identification scanner is to scan a label that has been previously applied to a box or pre-printed on a box to let the system controller know what product is contained in the box.

manual_box_labeling

The verification scanner’s job is to scan the label that the system printed and applied to the box to be sure that it is a good, readable label.

With today’s technological advances, barcode scanners are being replaced with vision-based sensors. These sensors essentially work by taking a picture of the label, and by using the processing power of the sensor itself, it is able to read the barcode on the label and send that information to the system controller.

automatic labeling system

This type of sensor offers many advantages that were not available with the laser-based scanners:

  • Ability to read both 1D and 2D codes
  • Ability to store every scanned image to a file on the controller
  • Ability to view images from several different sensors in real time
  • Ability to grade the quality of each image, which allows the controller to signal preventative maintenance
  • Better ability to read damaged codes
  • Allows the use of multiple filter settings

This lets the sensor look at the image in a different way. For example, if the sensor is going to have 10 chances to read the barcode, you can set up the sensor to try 8 times with a setting that works best under normal circumstances, and if it fails to get a good read, it can look at the label a different way for the last 2 chances.

With these advances in technology, this type of sensor offers a lot of added functionality over standard barcode scanners for essentially the same cost.

Automatic Box Labeling Brochure

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May 23, 2013

Automatic Barcode Weigh Labeling Systems Problems Explained

Do you like taking the responsibility of specifying multiple components?

Do you like to take responsibility for the overall system?

Is it worth the risk to you position and career?

automatic labeling

Dual Top and Bottom Labeler with Alarm Lights

Often we are presented with the task of straightening out a automatic barcode weigh label system.  How does this happen?  To better understand, lets take a look at the components of an automatic box labeling system:

Indexing the product into the system is a key component and dictates if the system will be a success. 

If the boxes are too close, the weighments will be in error and the label applicator will not be able to print the entire label before the next box arrives.  If this happens how will the system clear itself?

If the boxes are of various widths the indexer must also align all boxes to one side of the conveyor for the barcode scanner and barcode printer applicator to properly apply.

Pacing conveyor / speed up roller is the next critical component.

Once the indexer releases a box the speed up roller propels the first box clear of the 2nd box.  The indexer must now activate to retain the 2nd box while not hindering the progress of the first box.  Sounds easy huh?  Well this little step has failed on more than a few systems. The pacing conveyor now stabilizes the box velocity for the in-motion conveyor scale.

A Barcode Scanner (in the case of chaotic product mix) must now identify the type of product arriving into the system.

The Barcode scanner only gets one shot at reading the pre-identification label. Once read, the scanner must be fast enough to send the information to the computer equipment for product identification before the product is weighed. The scanner choices are practically endless and change on practically a weekly basis. Knowing a solid supplier from a flake is not an easy task.

automatic labeling

In-motion conveyor scale equipment must now determine the weight not only accurately but also legally. 

Keep in mind this scale is a trade device.  NTEP approval is not only a good idea, it is most likely the law of your land.  Specifying the size, conveyor speed, division size, tare weight interaction is all part of doing a proper system building job.  The weigh must arrive to the controller at the proper and consistent time every time. The timing of the system is completely dependent on this critical aspect.  Variation here spells disaster in performance and reliability.

Controller equipment must be designed for speed, interface ability, longevity, and reliability. 

Some groups try to control this with PLC equipment (an expensive, and difficult interface job), others attempt office PC equipment (leaves the dangers of automatic updates, viruses and the like), while still others use some unique controller equipment that is only available through them leaving the end user completely dependent on that supplier’s whims.

We take a Windows® 7 embedded industrial computer approach that uses industry-available equipment from multiple suppliers.

We then couple this equipment with digital I/O equipment that allows for use of encoder tracking rather than the error prone first-in-first-out (FIFO) buffering and timing arrangements. Careful, the ice got really thin on this step!

Controller software is capable of sinking the ship or making her sail smoothly.

Experience is the best indicator of potential success. Knowing the pitfalls and avoiding them is what this ballgame is all about. Rookies make rookie mistakes. The options here are endless and complex. Make sure your supplier has played ball many seasons!

A properly configured take away conveyor will accurately move the box to the applicator in the order, position, and orientation that is needed by the printer applicator(s) (yes there often is more than one).

This could as example mean moving the box to one side of the conveyor for one type of product and the other side of the conveyor for the rest dependent on the product’s final barcode label requirements.  The length must assure the label is always fully printed and waiting to be applied when the box arrives.  The box must be square with the applicator and timed perfectly.  The system must also be capable of allowing someone to grab a box right out of the middle of the system and be able to quickly and automatically correct itself.

A Barcode Label Printer Applicator must print a good looking readable barcode label and accurately, repetitively, and positively apply the label to the box and make it stick. 

Sounds easy, well it is not! Although it always surprises me how many printer applicator companies think it is. We have partnered with who we believe are the best in the industry.  Years of experience has taught us the difference.

A Verification Barcode Scanner is interfaced with the system controller to verify that the applied label is correct and readable. 

Timing and accuracy is everything as a properly operating unit runs like a Timex while a temperamental unit will have you rejecting good boxes, driving yourself mad as boxes pile high or production is forced to stop while maintenance fiddles with equipment.

A Product Reject Mechanism sounds simple enough on the surface, but keep in mind it must reject all the bad boxes no matter what size, shape, weight, height, etc.

The product reject mechanism must activate reliably, precisely, and repetitively at the proper time every time. Design of this component alone can also sink your boat.

Now it is time to think about product sortation as sorting specific products to specific locations for automatic box storage or palletizing is generally the next step.

That step is a whole new system in itself!

Automatic Labeling Systems Brochure

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Anyone who thinks they will just dive in a build their own or use a supplier who has only built a couple, will have a hard road ahead of them.

Choose a supplier who uses open architecture in their design to keep you flexible in the long run without holding you hostage with unique parts and equipment.

Experience with the industry and it’s requirements coupled with years of experience at a fair price will extend your career and grow our business!

Barcode Labeling Brochure

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May 22, 2013

Automatic Case / Barcode Labeling Made Easy

The need for automatic (barcode) case labeling equipment continues to increase every day.

automatic labeling

Dual bottom labeler permits continuous line operation while label changeout occurs

Companies want to reduce labor cost by replacing people using manual units with automatic units. The equipment that is available on the market today work’s, however, there are some things that can make the process a success or a failure.

Let’s start at the beginning of the process. You need to discuss the following topics with your supplier prior to purchasing system:

  1. How many pieces per minute?
  2. Dimensions of the largest and smallest box?
  3. Weight of the heaviest and lightest box?
  4. Size of the label?
  5. Location of the label?
  6. How will the system identify what is in the box?
  7. How are the boxes being indexed?
  8. Do you need a verification scanner?

Now let’s look at the system step by step:

Indexing the boxes correctly is the first key to a good system.

Getting the boxes properly spaced prior to weighing the box is an integral part of a system.

Perhaps a point that is just as important as indexing is aligning the box prior to weighing and labeling it.

Are you going to run chaotic (boxes with different product) boxes? If you are, you will need a pre-ident label on the box to tell the system what is in that specific box.

Weighing the box in-motion is the next part of the system. The boxes can not be pushed or pulled onto the scale as both will effect the correct weighment of the box.

Traveling onto the labeling conveyor, we now need to be sure the box is position to be labeled.

Barcode Labeling Brochure

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No mater where the label has to be placed, the box has to be in the correct position.

You may need a conveyor belt that moves all boxes to a certain side for labeling depending on the differences in your boxes.

You certainly need to provide a long enough labeling conveyor to give the controller the time it needs to process the weight and product information and for the Print and Apply to actually print and apply the label, two to three seconds of travel time is a good number to shoot for.

Now you have a box with a label on it, or don’t you? Do you want to scan an area for the barcode label? Do you want to make sure it is readable? If it is, do you want to put that box in inventory? What do you want to do with the box if anything above is missing? Do you need to divert the box? Where is the diverted box going to go and what will be done to it then?

We encourage you to spend some time thinking about if “Auto Case Barcode Labeling” is for you.

The system takes a number of pieces of equipment to do the job; each piece serves a specific purpose to the system and one bad piece will spoil the results of the whole system.

Once you have thought it through and have decided to proceed, find a supplier that takes all of the above information and creates a system that meets your needs!

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May 18, 2013

Is a UPS necessary for your Box Weighing Barcode Labeling System?

Is an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) necessary for your Barcode Box Weigh Labeling, On floor Computer,Checkweigher, Conveyor Scale, HMI, or Grading system?

A customer was having problems with their Barcode Box Weigh Labeling system. It would work fine for a few days and then problems would pop up and information would be lost.

Everything pointed to a software issue.

stainless steel enclosures

After many hours of troubleshooting it was discovered that the plant was experiencing brownouts. An uninterrupted power supply (UPS) was installed and the problem was solved.

Homes and businesses can experience electrical disturbances everyday. Even the smallest electrical fluctuation can damage electronic equipment. Power fluctuations can even cause the loss of data stored on computer hard drives.

Blackouts are a total loss of electrical power. A blackout can cause not only computer damage, but also the loss of any data contained on the computer.

Brownouts are a decrease in electrical voltage.

ss enclosures

Brownouts are common and can occur simply by the starting of another machine near your system. Along with electronic damage and data loss, a brownout can cause performance issues that are sometimes extremely hard to diagnose.

Spikes and surges are an increase in electrical voltage. Lightning strikes are often the cause of spikes. Surges are less intense, but often last longer. Both can cause damage to electronics and cause the loss of data.

A UPS can provide protection for all of these possible electrical disturbances and are a cheap insurance to keeping your Barcode Box Weigh Labeling system up and running.

Every Vande Berg Scale Barcode Box Weigh Labeling system comes with a UPS installed as standard equipment.

Barcode Labeling Brochure

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Apr 24, 2013

Barcode Labeling System Needs

We often are called in to evaluate a plant’s layout usually with the customer wanting us to justify automated box labeling system.

We can extend multiple lines a short distance install control logic to regulate or “traffic cop” our conveyor system, then automatically load the packed boxes onto our final single conveyor.

That conveyor then feeds our box indexer, barcode product ID scanner, in-motion conveyor scale, labeling conveyor, printer applicator(s), verification barcode scanner, and reject device(s) or sortation system(s).

barcode labeling

Barcode Label applied to corrugated box

Every plant is different and it can get really challenging at times doing the engineering layouts.

It is not uncommon to return from an evaluation with a recommendation to actually use multiple manual box labeling stations and palletizing at multiple locations with mule traffic remaining intact.

The simple fact is that since no two plants are the same, we must adapt our solutions to fit the plants.

Sometimes it is just not possible to automate every location mechanically, however that does not mean that you can not automate the data collection!

Luckily the years of experience have taught us to standardize the components, such as the controllers, mechanical designs, and scale equipment.

We use either an inexpensive weight indicator based controller or an embedded Microsoft® Windows 7 touch screen controller.

Both are able to interface via Ethernet to SQL databases for virtually seamless office automation ease.

Often well meaning, yet uniformed IT departments get involved because of the fear of rouge PC equipment (meaning our equipment!) potentially be allowed on the companies network.

Mobile Manual Box Labeler with Roll-out Printer, Touchscreen HMI Interface and Scale

Mobile Manual Box Labeler with Roll-out Printer, Touchscreen HMI Interface and Scale

It can be a struggle with some groups who do not understand the unique abilities of embedded Microsoft® Windows 7 equipment.

Frequently, managers have stunned looks when you demo the controller by deleting required windows files, or purposely loading a virus, then yanking the power plug out of the wall.

When you plug the unit back in, it not only boots up extremely quickly but somehow automatically restores the required files and loses the virus.

It can certainly open the eyes of the IT groups and the PLC promoters as reliability quickly becomes a non-issue.

The days of customers not having choices due to what accounting or networking system that they purchased from a previous vendor are quickly coming to an end as well.

Oh sure, we occasionally run into the plant that is being held hostage by their accounting system vendor who foolishly attempts to build or specify on floor equipment, but thankfully those days are getting fewer and farther between as customers start to realize the power of servers, networks, and databases such as MySQL.

Our philosophy is simple: Supply standard industry available components in the design of our customized solutions.

This allows our customers to better maintain the equipment they purchase either on their own or with the help of our programming and service departments.

I am always amazed to see competitors’ uniquely-designed and highly customized components in their systems that are obviously designed by the intended purpose to force a customer to purchase expensive single-source components at obscene prices.

In today’s highly connected world, it is just not a good business model in our minds.

Barcode Labeling Brochure

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