Smartphone as an Alternative to Thin Clients for Track & Trace

Packaging Hierarchy

Smartphone as an Alternative to Thin Clients for Track & Trace

  • Rob Couture

Track and Trace have become a reliable method to combat counterfeit products' injection into the supply chain. By applying a unique barcode to a product, it can be tracked throughout the process of manufacturing, packaging, shipping, distribution, and placement on retailer store shelves. However, this vital serialization process begins on the manufacturing floor.

High-value consumer products, built and packaged by contract manufacturers, are often placed in packages for display on the retailer's shelves. These "displays" are boxed together with others, and multiple boxes are then placed into a case. Lastly, cases are packaged into master cases and placed on shipping pallets. (See image above for a visual.) A hierarchy can be generated and stored in a database by applying barcodes to the product, box, case, and master case.

For small production runs of 10,000 to 50,000 products, building a custom automation machine to assemble and package products may be cost-prohibitive. In these instances, manual labor is often used for product and package assembly. To facilitate the serialization process's a handheld scanner can be tied to a remote thin client computer, which serves as a web portal for the data entry. A thin client is an effective solution for web interface data collection, but, depending on the product's size and nature, a mobile device may be a more cost-efficient alternative.

Cognex has released the MX-1000 Vision-Enabled Mobile Terminal that complements their handheld Dataman product line. The MX-1000 accepts various current and past generations of mobile devices and allows integrators to use older, lower-cost smartphone devices for data collection. In comparison to the cost of setting up a thin client system with a display, mouse, keyboard, mini speakers, and support stand, the new MX-1000 smartphone solution offers attractive cost savings.

MX1000 exploded

This product has many more use cases outside of high-value product serialization. 4VT had commissioned an MX1000 system that was used to scan pallet trays of springs and associate them with an assembly machine (which had its own barcode). Both pieces of data were sent to a local database for traceability.

One of the project's challenges was that the facility's IT department doesn't allow independent WiFi networks because they "could" interfere with their managed systems. The workaround used a Bluetooth-to-Ethernet bridge device that allowed a wireless connection (with a 30 ft range) to connect directly to the edge database's wired network.

Mobile development for the factory floor can be a reach for some automation integrators. Still, if they have some software development experience and patience for Android development, the Cognex Mobile Barcode Software Development Kit (SDK) is very approachable.

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