Speed Readers

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					 Machine Vision | Scanning Technologies                                                                    High-performance scanners capture all
                                                                                                           significant information on up to 60,000 letters
                                                                                                           per hour. The newest models even create
                                                                                                           a “fingerprint” for each letter (below).

   Speed Readers

   High-performance scanners and reading technologies
   play a key role in ensuring that letters and packages
   reach their destinations quickly. In addition to capturing
   address data on up to 60,000 pieces of mail per hour,
   these machines read Arabic and Chinese. In addition,
   the automobile and aviation industries are investing
   in reliable reading systems and counterfeit-proof
   markings in order to protect their products.

T   hey look like a combination of a stretched
    out filing cabinet and photocopier. But the
blue-gray behemoths that are 40 meters in
                                                     envelopes per second. That’s a world record.
                                                     Addresses read, the machines spit the letters into
                                                     bins according to street and house numbers.
                                                                                                           on the customer’s premises in exactly the same
                                                                                                           way.” That’s how it was in 1973, when the com-
                                                                                                           pany got its first big order from the German
                                                                                                                                                                reliably through the final sorting machine. Even
                                                                                                                                                                the route the mailman will use is taken into
                                                                                                                                                                account during this process.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                         to print barcodes on them,” says Miletzki. Further-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                         more, special instruments and huge amounts of
                                                                                                                                                                                                                         ink make barcodes expensive.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               recognition technology with information systems.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               This includes PARS — the Postal Automated
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Redirection System, which has been used in the
length and produce a soothing clickity-clack         People are needed only to feed the machines           Postal Service for the construction of an auto-          The newest postal recognition technology,                But that’s all ancient history thanks to the      United States for the last few years (see Pictures
sound each time a postcard or letter arrives — in    with more letters. The rest is handled by the         matic address reader. The first system of its kind   which is known as ARTRead, breaks new ground.            fingerprint. This system captures the front of        of the Future, Fall 2003, p. 20). “Seventeen per-
other words, some 60,000 times per hour — are        gigantic machines, regardless of whether a            in the world went online in 1978 and was able        In contrast to previous methods, many different          the envelope as a digital image that is as unique     cent of the U.S. population moves every year,”
actually giant letter sorters. They drone along in   stamp has been pasted incorrectly or an address       — even then — to process 36,000 handwritten          types of mail can be read with it: letters, parcels      as a fingerprint. Unmistakable characteristics        says Rudolf Klink, a marketing manager in
a large hall the size of a shopping center at        is illegible or written in Arabic.                    ZIP codes per hour.                                  or glossy magazines. ARTRead utilizes special            are extracted from each envelope and assigned         Konstanz. Because of unregistered changes of
Siemens Postal Automation (PA, Industrial Solu-           Udo Miletzki is one of the people who worked         Today, letters in Germany are brought to so-     high-performance Siemens scanners that have a            to the delivery as a binary number code. This         address, billions of pieces of mail end up as ‘dead
tions and Services Group) in Konstanz, Germany,      hard to ensure that such machines can function        called incoming-mail post offices and read by        resolution unprecedented for this velocity class —       image is stored in a central database along with      letters’ — representing an enormous cost in
where they are built and tested. Envelopes whiz      intelligently. In fact, he’s been refining increas-   machines like the one in Konstanz. The address is    up to 300 dpi. The software can even recognize           address information. Each letter is scanned           time and effort for the US Postal Service.”
along the machines’ conveyer systems at four         ingly intelligent recognition methods for over 30     registered and printed on each letter as an          printed text that is hard to read. In addition, the      again at its destination and its fingerprint is           PARS prevents letters with obsolete address-
meters per second — so fast that you can only        years. “Before new systems can be delivered           arrangement of lines — a barcode — in pink.          system has command of many languages and ad-             transmitted to the center. Within fractions of a      es from being sent to a prior place of residence.
make out an endless white ribbon instead of          around the world, they are tested here,” says         Then the trip to the letter’s destination begins.    dress formats. Particularly in countries in which        second the center returns the previously read,        If a person relocates, his or her mail is diverted
individual letters.                                  Miletzki, who grew up with the postal sorting         Thanks to the code, the address doesn’t have to      different alphabets are mixed — for example,             related address information.                          to the new address. The system works this way:
   Each system’s scanner can read and capture        business from its beginnings. “Then, after being      be read in again. The barcode contains all the ad-   Latin or Cyrillic alphabets — ARTRead is helpful.            Each letter’s characteristics are captured by     A database stores old and new addresses. If a
not only the address, but also the images of 17      thoroughly evaluated, the machines are set up         dress information needed and guides the letter       In fact, there is no written language that can’t be      high-resolution scanners and analyzed by soft-        letter with an old address is recorded, PARS will
                                                                                                                                                                read using this technology, which was developed          ware like ARTRead, which has been trained us-         transmit it to the new destination in spite of the
                                                                                                                                                                in Konstanz.                                             ing thousands of address samples, letters and         wrong address.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                         types of handwriting, so that everything func-            This system has clearly speeded up delivery,
                                                                                                                                                                Digital Fingerprints. To make sure that news-            tions successfully. Statistical methods then help     substantially reduced the amount of misdirect-
                                                                                                                                                                papers, parcels and letters reach their recipients       the software to determine which symbol a sign         ed mail, and made it possible for the US Postal
                                                                                                                                                                dependably and quickly, Miletzki and his col-            or handwritten word is most similar to.               Service to save several hundred millions of dol-
                                                                                                                                                                leagues have developed a “fingerprint” method                                                                  lars annually. Meanwhile, a similar, slightly
                                                                                                                                                                that will start as a pilot project for a large Euro-     Saving Hundreds of Millions of Dollars.               modified forwarding system is now also being
                                                                                                                                                                pean mail service in 2007. The system will help          Siemens Postal Automation leads the market            utilized in Germany, Denmark and Switzerland.
                                                                                                                                                                facilitate delivery of large pieces of mail, such as     worldwide with a 66 percent market share (for         The PARS order from USPS — with a value of
                                                                                                                                                                oversized envelopes, heat-sealed magazines or            installed systems) in the field of letter sorting     460 million euros — was the biggest that
                                                                                                                                                                padded envelopes. “For example, it’s very difficult      systems. The most significant new developments        Siemens Postal Automation ever landed in its
                                                                                                                                                                to stick barcode labels onto slippery plastic foils or   in this area are based on an intelligent linking of   fifty-plus-year history.

94 Pictures of the Future | Fall 2006                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Pictures of the Future | Fall 2006 95
 Machine Vision | Scanning Technologies

   The objective for ever more sophisticated                       Workers in Konstanz have been fine tuning                                                            rupting reflections on the surfaces of parts,
sorting systems is clear. Distribution must be-               mailing systems for over five decades. But they                                                           problems with low contrast, and changing
come even faster and more economical. That’s                  still haven’t run out of ideas. In conjunction                                                            lighting conditions. “The quality demands on
also the goal of Switzerland’s postal service,                with a number of companies and the German                                                                 these systems are primarily the same ones that
which is planning to centralize distribution in               Research Center for Artificial Intelligence in                                                            have been placed on the performance of postal
three big mail centers. Today, letters with illegi-           Kaiserslautern, they’re working on a project in-                                                          systems,” says Beck. “These have taken a great
ble addresses are video coded. The images are                 volving a reader that will understand semantic                                                            leap forward.”
sent to computer workstations, where employ-                  information. In other words, this device will be                                                              A&D’s position in this area has been
ees read the data and type the entire correct                 able to understand word meanings in their con-                                                            strengthened recently thanks to the purchase
address into the system. Video coding is well-                text. For example, a word like “Konstanz” could                                                           of Acuity CiMatrix, a U.S. company that was the
established, but it is time-consuming.                        crop up in various places in an address — in the                                                          world leader in matrix code reading instru-
   The new video codec system does not re-                    town, street or company name — and that can                                                               ments and image processing systems in 2005.
quire the full address to be typed in. Employees              confuse even the most sophisticated sorting
need only fill out the portion of the address that            system.                                                                                                   Worldwide Authentication. Another chal-
the machine is unable to read. Furthermore,                        Automatic semantic evaluation of text, on                                                            lenge lies in integrating DPM and DMC into an
video coding can take place far from distribu-                the other hand, could make sorting machines                                                               extremely wide range of production lines. To
tion centers.                                                 even smarter than they already are and also             Scanners need less than 100 milliseconds          accomplish this, Siemens maintains a Solution
   Letter-sorting installations can simply send               make it possible for new web services to handle         to read a 2D code. Using such markings,           Partner Program for Machine Vision with ISW of
envelope images to workstations for process-                  daily mail communications more effectively.             turbine blades, for example, can be made          Hamburg, Germany, a leader in the develop-
ing. The address is usually completed and re-                                                                         counterfeit-proof and quickly identified.         ment of customized data matrix systems for a
turned while the letter is still in the machine.              Coding Ships’ Engines. Another well-estab-                                                                wide variety of industries.
When the letter leaves the machine, it’s marked               lished postal automation technology is “data                                                                  “For one thing, we test which DPM method is
with the right destination.                                   matrix code“ (DMC) or “2D code” — the use of a          Data Matrix Code processing requires high-        best for marking the customer’s products or
   But thanks to the fingerprint method and                   square that is filled with a dot pattern. In con-    performance reading instruments, such as the         components,” says ISW’s Ulrich van Groningen.
the ARTRead system, video coding can probably                 trast to barcodes, DMC can be scanned from           scanners produced by Siemens Automation and          “For another, we analyze how the instruments
be dispensed with altogether in the foreseeable               every angle and requires up to 100 times less        Drives (A&D) in Nuremberg. There, specialists        can be integrated into production.” That means
future, according to Miletzki. For experts at                 space for the same information content. Fur-         regard the reading and verification of individual    that ISW employees test the customer’s parts
Siemens PA this is not only a question of speed,              thermore, it can still be read even if small areas   and counterfeit-proof markings as nothing            directly in their laboratories to determine which
but also one of quality and reliability — and the             are scratched. Post authorities allocate the         more than part of day-to-day business.               type of marking is the most suitable for the
prevention of fraud. To that end they have                    codes — similar to the numbers in Internet              To them, the issue involves not only letters,     materials involved and which reading system is
come up with a system that checks whether let-                banking — from a central database that protects      but also printed circuit boards, airplane compo-     best for the application.
ters are correctly postmarked or not. PA’s “Rev-              DMCs from falsification.                             nents and ships’ engines. That’s because many            The company recently developed a data
enue Protection System,” for instance, can rec-                                                                                                                         matrix system to mark Lufthansa’s turbine
ognize if the postage mark is legitimate or from                                                                                                                        blades. Here, jet engines are completely dis-
a stolen machine — once again, thanks to a                                    Latin, Arabic and hand-written addresses —                                                mantled for maintenance and individual blades
connection to a database.                                                     Siemens scanners can read them all.                                                       are reworked or replaced whenever they are
                                                                                                                                                                            Blades are individually marked with the 2D
                                                                                                                   industrial businesses — especially automobile        code to ensure that each of them is mounted
   Steep Rise in Reading Rates                                                                                     manufacturers and aviation-related companies         back into the same position later. “The code also
                                                                                                                   — have recognized the advantages of DMC and          serves as protection against counterfeit or old
                                                                                                                   are already marking many of their products           parts that are brought to the market with false
    Reading rate
                                                                                                                   with it.                                             declarations,” says Beck. And that doesn’t only
                                                                                                Machine               The special thing about data matrix codes is      apply to aircraft parts. Here too, the 2D code is
                                                                                                                   that their dots can be imprinted directly on a       just beginning to become established. After all,
                                                                                                Linked             given part more easily than the stripes of a bar-    reliable communication networks are a prerequi-
                                                                                                                   code. Depending on the material, the dot pat-        site of a monitoring system like this one. They
     50%                                                                                        Arabic
                                                                                                                   tern is burned in by a laser, etched into metal      ensure that DPM data stored centrally with a
                                                                                                                   with needles or applied with special inks. Experts   manufacturer can be sent anywhere in the world
     30%                                                                                     reading rates         refer to this as Direct Part Marking (DPM).          within seconds.
                                                                                             for city and zip         Thomas Beck, a Product Manager at A&D,                Aircraft manufacturers that mark their parts
                                                                                                                   says that “we are currently at the beginning of      using counterfeit-proof DPM technology are one
                                                                                                                   a growth curve with regard to 2D code.” Today,       example. If a customer replaces a component at
                                                                                                                   1,800 reading operations per minute are al-          some point, the component’s code is read in and
            1970      1975     1980      1985      1990     1995      2000     2005              Year
                                                                                                                   ready possible.                                      authenticated by the manufacturer via Internet.
                                                                                                                      Reading and interpreting a code with instru-          Beck is certain that with the establishment of
   1978: Single-line reader (for town + zip code), 1984: Dual-line reader (street name added)                      ments from the Simatic HawkEye series, which         reliable central data memory and linked DPM
   1990: Four-line reader (whole address), 1996: All-line reader (all lines of sender and recipient addresses)     have very good optics and excellent software,        reading systems, 2D code will become a high
   2006: ARTRead software recognizes all text lines and graphic objects (logos, stamps, stickers)                  takes less than 100 milliseconds. Furthermore,       flyer in plenty of industries in addition to aero-
                                                                                                                   dot patterns can be read even if there are dis-      nautics.                           I Tim Schröder

96 Pictures of the Future | Fall 2006