As an industry, logistics has grown exponentially over the past 20 years, but it has often lagged behind when it comes to automation and industry 4.0.

As they’ve sought to scale up at speed, fulfilment centres have tended to stick with what they know works, instead of what can actually be done better through new technology. Some might not even realise there’s a better way.

But for the bigger logistics companies doing many thousands of movements each day, the focus is now increasingly on efficiency – seeking out time and cost savings while placing renewed focus on operator health and safety post-Covid. Eliminating unnecessary manual scanning ticks all of these boxes, and the dock door of the logistics centre is now the single biggest opportunity.

In the highly controlled world of logistics, the dock door still has an uncontrollable element of risk. This aggressive and fast paced environment has forklifts moving at speed, carrying multiple pallets to vehicles for distribution. 

Ensuring that the right pallets reach the right doors quickly would be impossible without barcode scanning, but this process is still almost always a manual one. 

Operators will drive pallets up to the doors, get out of the forklift and then manually scan each pallet with a handheld scanner. Not only can this be dangerous – leaving the relative protection of the cab – but can take half a minute or more each time, especially if there’s a scanning issue.

There’s a big cost efficiency issue here – adding extra time for every pallet and causing potential bottlenecks to build up in a vital part of the site. But there’s a safety aspect too, with an extra point of contact happening on a shared, handheld scanner, and all in a potentially dangerous environment.

Enter Cognex and Bytronic Vision Automation. By combining Bytronic integration know-how with Cognex technology, they’ve made fully-automated, high-speed door dock scanning a reality.

How does automated door dock scanning work?

The system replaces the handheld device with a series of fixed-mount readers that scan the barcode on the pallet as operators drive through the door. When Integrated with traffic-light ‘pass and fail’ systems, it tells the operator that they have the correct pallets for that door as they pass through.

The cameras are mounted on either side or both sides with full coverage from the ground up to 2.4m – to cover single or double stacked pallets.

Because forklift drivers will rarely approach a dock in a perfectly straight line you have to read fast and accurately from multiple angles. These readers are programmed to only read codes in a specific scanning zone, so nothing outside that area can be picked up by mistake.

The Cognex DataMan technology can read barcodes that are crinkled, badly printed or damaged behind shrink wrap, with the option to grab multiple large and dynamic images thanks to its high dynamic range.

The data can then be sent at a speed that works with existing systems – and the system can be programmed to only read certain barcodes, while detecting and discounting old or rogue barcodes which may have been placed on a pallet in error. 

By removing manual scanning, the operators stay safely in the cab, and the readers are safe too. As solid-state cameras set in protective housing, they’re designed for harsh environments where forklifts could easily damage an unprotected device.

Who is door dock scanning right for?

The system can be integrated to work at any site that loads pallets into containers or trucks through doors. The bigger your logistics operation, the more potential benefits there could be from automating your door dock scanning. That’s not to say that smaller sites can’t take advantage – but, as always, feasibility depends on the level of throughput and automation.

Saving half a minute per pallet can make a big difference if your operation moves hundreds or thousands of pallets each day, and can mean impressively fast returns on investment. 

To achieve the very best read rates of 99.9% and above, you need to have the backend systems in place to support. These can be pre-existing or can be specified during integration. The very best read rates also depend on the reliable and accurate labelling of the pallets – possibly through robotic application. This can also allow you to reduce the number of cameras your system needs.

Most importantly, it’s a future-ready system that can be integrated with further developments in forklift automation.

At Bytronic, we can bring the whole system together, from integrating the system and setting up the data handling to advice on optimising CRM systems and operator training.