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IDC’s ZB111 wireless barcode reader is helping to minimise maintenance downtime and costs at the distribution centre of a global retailer that the company has recently automated.

The small, battery-powered ZB111 enables supervisors and maintenance engineers at the DC to be notified of problems the moment they arise; this enables fast rectification of problems, such as conveyor jams and chute full conditions, which affect the distribution centre (DC) output.

The hand-held ZB111 addresses a problem that is common in most automated distribution centres, where there can be hundreds of conveyors transferring product/cartons from one area to another.

For instance, the DC in IDC’s latest project has 250 variable-speed conveyor drives, as well as 20 print-and-apply machines, 10 omni barcode scanning points, 25 line scanners and 75 hand-held barcode readers.

In distributed systems of this scale, the conveyor drives are usually controlled from a central PLC, which controls the conveyors in sequence using photocells to detect when a box is present on each conveyor.

Under normal operation this is fine, until, that is, maintenance is required on one of the conveyor drive belts.

In this situation, adjusting the belt tension for a single conveyor in a long line of conveyors involves independently stopping and starting of the troublesome conveyor out of sequence.

Usually this is an awkward and impractical procedure, performed using local controls on the front of the electrical control panel, which can be a long distance from the drive in question.

Alternatively, local controls can be provided for each drive but this is expensive, both in terms of equipment and installation costs.

In its latest DC project, IDC has overcome all of these problems and made the tensioning operation much quicker and safer, using a ZB111 wireless barcode reader.

The ZB111 connects over the Zigbee wireless network to the server and then to the PLC in the central control panel.

As part of IDC’s system, each electrical control panel at the DC has a maintenance/normal run key switch; and each drive is fitted with a simple barcode that is a unique number.

The maintenance operative first selects the ’maintenance position’ on the control panel, then goes to the drive and scans the barcode on the drive that needs to be controlled.

The LCD display on the ZB111 then displays the relative drive number and the conveyor is started using the keypad.

Importantly, the ZB111-based system can be easily configured for variable-speed drives and increased safety applications, using a wireless heartbeat update that stops the drive automatically in case of wireless network failure.

The ZB111 is also used to improve operations in the DC by enabling system alarms to be received by specific operators during normal day-to-day operations.

For example, maintenance operatives can receive alarms generated by the control system for motor overload or low air pressure and take immediate action.

Similarly, a supervisor can receive an alarm or warning condition for potential delays, such as conveyor jams and ’chute full’ conditions.

The ZB111 has an internal buzzer that sounds when the alarm message is received and displayed on the LCD.

A designated button on the keypad is then pressed to accept the alarm, which registers the time it was acknowledged on the server.

As a small hand-held unit, the ZB111 is ideal for this type of operation: it only requires a small battery, is a fraction of the weight of Wi-Fi, Windows CE devices and can be conveniently worn on a lanyard or carried in a pocket.

IDC supports the ZB111 – and its complete Zigbee wireless range – with its own software solutions, including a standard OPC server interface and a software development kit (SDK), which enables Microsoft Visual Studio .Net developers to develop their own solutions with no requirement for an in-depth knowledge of Zigbee wireless networking.

Designed for wireless mesh operation with licence-free IEEE 802.15.4/Zigbee wireless sensor networks, the ZB111 wireless barcode reader reads all commonly used barcodes and can be used for a variety of industrial, logistics and maintenance applications.

The unit features a rugged design and offers cost-saving advantages as it does not require cabling, power supplies or installation.

It has low power requirements and is rechargeable from a standard 5V DC/mains charger.

The ZB111 is provided with a keypad featuring 10 keys – which can be individually customised if required – and a graphical display, enabling barcode and interactive messages, commands and prompts to be sent to central warehouse management and manufacturing execution server-based systems.

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