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Seeing the smart future

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Michele Leoni, senior product manager, machine vision at Datalogic, discusses product traceability for the next generation of factories

Data marking and reading are prerequisites for a smart factory, where machinery, products and systems are connected along the value chain. Automatic identification (AutoID) technologies are the basis for Internet of Things (IoT) applications and machine-to-machine communication in fourth-generation manufacturing. They also extend traceability of processes and goods to the final user.

Applying IoT to industrial production plays a key role in the concept of Industry 4.0. Here, a connection is established between machines, products and systems all along the value chain, beyond the individual company. These connected mechanisms, also known as cyber-physical systems, are able to interact together, analyse data to forecast errors, and adjust to change. Collecting and analysing ‘big data’ will make processes faster, more flexible and efficient in smart factories.

A crucial role in the creation of smart factories will be played by companies that are able to generate data. One of them is Datalogic, located in Italy and a producer of barcode readers, mobile computers, sensors, vision and laser marking systems.

The goal of a smart factory is to achieve interconnected production that maximises efficiency, minimises down time and defects, and provides traceability throughout the supply chain. Data is the key to achieve this and automatic identification plays a big role.

The technologies used to generate data can be divided into five categories depending on the type and function of the product data or production process: marking (laser marking); scanning (barcode readers and vision systems); writing and reading (readers and RFID tags); object scanning and accident prevention (photoelectric sensors, vision sensors, safety barriers); and physical feature scanning (colour, size and vision sensors).

Identification is the key to traceability. Sensors, barcode readers, laser marking and vision systems are fundamental to generating and capturing data, allowing objects and machines to communicate and create a trail of traceability. Within the enterprise and along the value chain, the status of a manufacturing process or the status of a product is registered and communicated. Interconnectivity via an industrial Ethernet system (Profinet, Ethernet/IP, EtherCAT, Modbus TCP, Powerlink) carries data to control systems (industrial PLC or PC), manufacturing execution systems, and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems.

Object identification is the basis of product traceability for the next generation of factories. For this reason, Datalogic has developed a software algorithm for object identification beyond barcodes, the Impact Pattern Sorting Tool (PST).

Impact PST is used to detect and locate multiple patterns in images from large databases. It deals with occlusion, clutter and scale issues. The software algorithm is able to identify products based on their appearance or shape and can locate them, returning the pose (position and orientation relative to a given reference system).

It ensures reliable product identification, even when dealing with flow pack and stretch film, commonly used for packing pasta, cheese, frozen and cooked food in the food and beverage sector. This technology’s application can be extended throughout the smart factory in multiple industries where it can capture data from an item or package – in product, distribution, shipping, cross docking, and more.

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