Vision automates Netflix DVD returns process

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Internet subscription film and TV service provider, Netflix, has installed an automation solution to deal with its DVD rental returns at its California distribution hub.

Bronway Automation designed, developed and installed its ARRM3600 (Automated Rental Return Machine) prototype and, following an intensive trial period, were selected to supply 180 production units to 42 Netflix distribution centres across the USA.

To undertake the necessary inspection and verification checks throughout the rental returns process, the ARRM unit uses advanced DataMan100 code readers from Cognex to read barcodes on the envelope, sleeve and DVD disc. This information is communicated by the Bronway ARRM to a central server to ensure complete traceability throughout the process. Each ARRM unit has nine DataMan 100 code readers positioned at various stations to undertake barcode reading and inspection tasks for 3,600 mailers per hour.

James Frost, general manager at Bronway Automation, commented: ‘Cognex and the DataMan100 were chosen because they offered a single vision solution that could read the Netflix disc hub barcode at any radial orientation and the reading of barcodes to determine the orientation of the Netflix sleeves. No other supplier could offer a single unit to address both requirements. Following contract discussions with Cognex for the 1,620 DataMan units required we were satisfied that the DataMan100 was the correct choice for Bronway, both technically and commercially.’

Each Netflix DVD has a doughnut shaped barcode label affixed around the centre hole on the artwork side of the disc. Two DataMan100s are mounted here (one from above and one from below) to read the barcode on the hub ring label. The orientation of the hub ring barcode is not fixed in a specific radial orientation; the camera must read it regardless of position. The disc is re-orientated if necessary for subsequent cleaning and surface scanning. Once the discs have passed the surface scan inspection, they are reinserted into their original sleeve.

Paul Johnson, director of operations support at Netflix, stated: ‘Having automation to check that the correct disc is in the right sleeve has had a measureable impact on our customer satisfaction. The reliability of the Dataman100 has been excellent, and even when we did have an apparent issue with the readers (the root cause of which was actually with a USB hub) the speed with which Cognex sent an engineer to work alongside Bronway to quickly resolve the problem on-site really impressed me.’

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