Opening the door to innovation

Opening the door to innovation

Santucci, Daniel E

Product enhancements are not always developed from within the boundaries of a specific industry. Many times, looking at other industries can hold the key to innovation.

For example, a general thought in payments processing may be “the system can `read’ these documents more accurately if the documents weren’t skewed when fed through the transport”. Since many of the current image capture and extraction tools are applied at the time of capture, “read” rates are directly tied to the feed capabilities of the transport. Many times, higher read rates can only be obtained if the transport is slowed down, meaning the transport is never able to run at “full throttle”. But what if skewed documents weren’t the exception, but the rule? What if the standard was document presentation upside-down, skewed 90 degrees or even turned 180 degrees?

The answer is that imaging systems need to ‘read’ checks and documents no matter how they are fed on the transport. This would seem to be a difficult task: Many of the current image capture and extraction tools utilized in payments processing rely on the accuracy of the feeding device (transport) and the orientation of the document.

Looking outside the industry can help us in solving this problem. The pharmaceutical industry is a great example of how innovations from one industry can be applied to another.

In the early 1990’s, the pharmaceutical industry was pushed by the FDA to develop 100% electronic inspection capabilities for date and lot code verification for labels, leaflets, etc., that would be placed into or on a carton or bottle. Many of the carton and bottle lines ran at speeds in excess of 350 bottles a minute.

Looking specifically at label verification on bottles, the task at hand was daunting:

1. Verity the date and lot code on a label after placement onto a carton or bottle

2. Label placement typically +/- 1/32″

3. Line speed 350 bottles/minute

4. Bottle orientation: Anywhere in a 360 degree window

By the early 1990’s, very reliable OCR tools had been developed by a leading machine vision company, Cognex. For this application, relying on proper label placement and bottle orientation was not an option. With these hurdles in mind, Cognex developed a highly sophisticated “search” algorithm. The search tool would locate a specific item that was on every label-for example, a logo-no matter what the orientation. Utilizing a four-camera set-up to “cover” the 360 degrees of potential bottle orientation, the software was developed to “find” the trained logo. Then, after finding the logo, the OCR tools would be applied to the rest of the label. Once the label orientation was found via the search tool, the date and lot code verification was very simplistic. The results were striking: Cognex typically boasted read rates of 99.9%.

Fast forwarding ahead to 2002, SANCO SYSTEMS developed many of the software tools for the ImageX payments processing solution based upon a similar concept. With ImageX Technology, we can train a unique feature on every document (a logo, for example). Orientation of that document does not matter. Once we “find” the logo, we apply ‘read’ and extraction tools to scan lines, stub car, etc. The results have also been very good: ImageX read rates are approaching 99.9% for all documents.

Often, advances in technology already exist, but they are not apparent because we are trained to stay focused in our particular industry of expertise. Stepping outside the box-maybe even to a pharmaceutical industry trade show-can provide one with the solution.

Copyright Association for Work Process Improvement Apr 2003

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