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Optimising the DC for online fulfilment

01 November 2021

As the Covid-19 pandemic forces more and more brick-and-mortar retailers to dive deeper into e-commerce, many are finding their DCs unable to efficiently handle the switch from pallet or carton scanning to fulfilling single-item orders. But there are some simple tech upgrades that can help businesses of all sizes adapt their warehouse operations to capitalise on the spike in online shopping.

FIX 1: Implement scanners that can handle different barcodes 

Shipping labels can include 1D and 2D symbologies, even in one field of view. Unlike traditional laser scanners, image-based barcode readers decode a digital image and read any symbology. Digital cameras, especially those used for industrial purposes, incorporate different lighting options, filters, and algorithms to provide fast and reliable results at any line speed.


In high-volume e-commerce warehouses, pick-and-pack stations equipped with overhead-mounted barcode readers are proven to be more ergonomic and up to 30% more efficient, as they allow items to be scanned and packed simultaneously. This also proves to be a more hygienic solution as it eliminates operators from having to pass items hand-to-hand.

At goods-in, boxes are typically manually depalletised and scanned as they enter the warehouse. A scan tunnel for inbound logistics provides significant gains in throughput and efficiency. Data generated at this station ensures that inventory is accurate and up-to-date and facilitates vendor compliance checks.

FIX 2: Sort objects based on shape for automated material handling

The second challenge is the need for material handling equipment to transport single items rather than large packs containing multiple items. These smaller and lighter objects behave differently to cartons when conveyed, so existing line-scan equipment can struggle with tracking issues.

Cognex, a leader in advanced machine vision and industrial barcode reader systems, believes its item detection system provides a cost-effective fix to such challenges. It is a motion-capable 3D smart camera used for dimensioning of regular and irregularly shaped items. It enables the sorting of packages based on either shape or size to be easily automated. The reliable and low-maintenance system is easy to install and retrofit without disruption to existing operations and may be used in combination with a scan tunnel.

FIX 3: Use smart data collection for process optimisation.

Edge Intelligence combined with cloud computing provides powerful performance monitoring tools, showing read rates across the distribution network. It is capable of monitoring changes made to the system and rolling them back if needs be. 

The technology can generate reports for one or multiple systems, can alert maintenance or engineering teams for preventative maintenance if read rates are falling, can enable the user to easily sort and classify no-read images for use in vendor compliance issues, and serves up all this data and statistics to the cloud using the popular and flexible MQTT protocol.


Vision technology, such as image-based barcode scanners, plays a significant role in the speed and efficiency of warehouse operations, and is also an area where most gains can be found when seeking to introduce these POS requirements into an existing DC. 

With a strong and distinguished background in factory automation and cost-effective solutions capable of reading even the most degraded codes, Cognex is ideally suited to overcome the challenges of a 21st century high-throughput B2C distribution centre.