Tunnel Scanning is the Most Valuable Tool in the Logistics Industry

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Tunnel scanning is the backbone of fast, accurate package tracking and sorting in distribution centers. Indeed, e-commerce, postal delivery and parcel shipping would slow to a crawl without scan tunnels, which is why they’re among the most valuable tools in the logistics industry.

A scan tunnel has two crucial components:

  • An array of high-tech cameras that photograph all sides of a parcel, capturing the information in barcodes and other machine-readable text.
  • Software to decode the product information stored in the barcodes and guide packages to their proper destinations.

Conveyor belts move goods through this array of scanning technology in much the same way as a truck conveys its cargo through a tunnel — hence, the name scanning tunnel. A quick overview of tunnel scans illustrates the value Cognex brings to the logistics industry.

Scanning Tunnels in Real-World Operations

Cognex built its business around using machine vision to automate industrial operations. Our industrial cameras and software help robots find components on assembly lines and move them to the next step in the production process. Our machine vision tools also allow logistics operators to scan barcodes and streamline package handling.

Individual cameras and software may be installed in all sorts of critical junctures within a distribution system. The scan tunnel is one of the most sophisticated machine vision technologies because it pulls so many scanning operations together in one place.

The most advanced scanning tunnels photograph each of the six sides of a carton or box simultaneously, though some tunnels might not require that level of coverage. Most scanning tunnels are installed in the final step of the distribution process to ensure that the right box goes to the right truck for delivery. As e-commerce has become more complex, however, many logistics companies are adding tunnel scanning to the beginning of their distribution lines to prevent errors at the loading dock from persisting throughout the sorting and distribution process.

Cognex software uses powerful algorithms that can scan barcodes accurately even if they’ve been torn, wrinkled or obscured by plastic wrappers. This is especially important when packages reach the scanning tunnel because conveyor-belt operations may damage barcode labels. The scan tunnel becomes the last opportunity to correct for this kind of damage before boxes leave the distribution center.

Tunnel Scanning in E-commerce and Parcel/Postal Delivery

Here’s a look at the role of tunnel scanning in two critical logistics domains: e-commerce and parcel/postal delivery.

E-commerce: Logistics has been one of the prime beneficiaries of modern tunnel-scanning technologies in e-commerce operations. Many e-commerce companies came of age in the 21st century and did not have to deal with legacy systems that prevent older firms from installing the latest and greatest tools.

E-commerce newcomers helped establish distribution center best practices for barcode placement and packaging consistency to ensure fast, accurate throughput. These practices build on the knowledge that goes into optimum placement and configuration of scanning tunnels, giving e-commerce operators a level of control that often eludes logistics companies using legacy technologies.

Parcel/postal delivery: Constant changes in the e-commerce sector are requiring private parcel-delivery companies to embrace more logistics technologies like tunnel scanning. By and large, corporate giants in the parcel-delivery sector have the resources to invest in advanced machine vision applications.

That’s not the case for the U.S. Postal Service, which has endured chronic financial difficulties for years. Resource limitations oblige Postal Service managers to be extremely choosy about where they deploy complex tools like scanning tunnels.

Cognex helped the Postal Service put our technology to work where it could do the most good: dealing with badly damaged shipping labels and sorting trays that had become worn and weathered from years of use. The Postal Service also is getting more deeply involved in services such as Sunday delivery, which requires more automated sorting that benefits from tunnel scans.

The Cognex Edge in Tunnel Scanning

Cognex drives value in the logistics sector in three pivotal ways:

  • Unmatched accuracy and speed in barcode reading, improving efficiency and throughput.
  • Advanced algorithms that collect feedback from scanning devices, enabling continuous optimization and improvement.
  • Solid-state cameras with no moving parts, reducing maintenance and repair costs.

The technologies in Cognex scanning tunnels represent decades of innovation in hardware and software. In logistics, we consistently set standards for barcode-scanning accuracy and throughput that outpace the competition.

To learn more, download our free guide:  

Matt Engle

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