Sorting parcels and packages prior to delivery is an essential step in shipping and handling. Order fulfillment applications rely on accurate automated sorting to keep costs down, maximize efficiency, and accommodate large volumes of packages. Furthermore, incorrectly sorted packages can delay delivery and reduce customer satisfaction.
To reduce the risk of error, an automated profiling solution is necessary to scan packages to ensure accurate and fast sorting; however, it can be challenging to find a reliable solution due to the high speed of the application and the wide variety in color, size, and sheen of packages — from soft packs to polybags, corrugated boxes to flat envelopes, and matte finishes to glossy surfaces or tape.
An OEM that supplies conveyors to end users was looking for a high-speed profiling solution to reliably sort packages into large (greater than 18” high) and small (generally envelopes). In this application, if two or more parcels are stacked on top of one another, their sizes cannot be accurately determined, so these are directed into a bin. A worker periodically removes the contents of the bin and places the packages back on the conveyor to be re-sorted.
A failure occurs when a package is placed on the wrong conveyor. These failures occur most often when packages are stacked on top of one another, making it difficult to determine the size of each individual item. The OEM’s existing solution, a light grid, yielded a failure rate of 2%. The goal was to find a new solution that could reduce the failure rate to less than 1%.
The solution was an array of four to eight LE Series laser measurement sensors from Banner Engineering mounted above the conveyor belt, looking down at the packages. The sensors scan the parcels as they pass below in order to determine the size of the parcel (large or small) and ensure it is sorted to the correct conveyor. The sensors also verify that each package has four sides/corners, confirming that it is a single item. If two or more parcels are stacked, the corners are typically offset, indicating an irregularity. These parcels are diverted to a bin for re-sorting.
LE laser measurement sensors were chosen, as they meet five key application criteria: high response speed, excellent reliability, robustness, simple mounting, and low-maintenance operation. Since each sensor operates independently, the response speed is significantly faster than the typical light grid for greater accuracy at high speeds.
The sensors can reliably detect any target, regardless of size, color, or reflectivity. Compared to other technologies, such as vision solutions, laser measurement sensors are less affected by environmental conditions like fluctuations in ambient light or temperature. The LE sensor can also withstand vibration from the conveyor for long-term, reliable operation.
The laser sensors only require mounting and power to one side of the application, whereas an automation light grid requires mounting and power to both the emitter and receiver units mounted on either side of the conveyor. Mounting above also means the sensors cannot be easily knocked out of alignment.
The sensors are a low-maintenance solution; there is no need to continually adjust settings after installation, and the sensors are built to last in the most difficult industrial environments. Sensors with IO-Link communication provide remote health diagnostics and notify when maintenance is needed before a failure occurs.
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