Published on 20 February, 2014
Manufacturing and mail order companies already use video surveillance to protect their supply chains but rarely is its potential fully exploited. All too often some building blocks are in place but they are not linked up to maximum effect. Video data on its own are useful, but when combined with process data then the potential utility increases dramatically and user-benefits multiply. For instance, routine electronic reports to your customers can be accompanied by evidential images or video clips; you can resolve stock irregularities quickly and efficiently; and you can analyse, and hence improve, your processes and procedures. — Which is why Geutebruck markets its video security systems as being process optimisation tools for the whole operation.
At the simplest level, take a scenario which is common in manufacturing as well as warehousing and distribution: a video security system is used to monitor the outer skin of buildings and the site perimeter. If there are lots of vehicle movements, it often makes sense to integrate automatic number plate recognition to enable vehicles to be recognised automatically and managed and tracked more efficiently. This may be done for security reasons but also for site management ones. In operations where there is a constant stream of vehicles collecting shipments of goods, it can be advantageous to take an additional step and integrate the video+ANPR system with the company’s order processing system. For example at Gerolsteiner Brunnen’s site in Germany each vehicle is immediately recognised at the gate and directed to the correct loading bay, simultaneously the dispatch department is automatically alerted to its impending arrival, so that the relevant shipment can be stood ready at the loading bay. The extra integration eliminates waiting time and enables Gerolsteiner to achieve greater throughput without building more loading facilities.
Nowadays wherever high value items are stored then it is the accepted norm to employ video security systems to prevent theft. But sadly theft can be endemic in carriers and delivery services. “All kinds of things are stolen,” reports Thorsten Schmid, Geutebruck’s key market manager for logistics, “anything and everything possible disappears,” and he speaks from experience, having previously been a logistics manager in a large international courier. “Goods worth more than eight billion euros vanish each year out of the distribution network in Europe and all too often it is unclear where the losses are occurring.” Goods may pass through several hands, including extensively automated distribution centres, making it difficult to establish where the losses are occurring. And a leaky supply chain has serious consequences. Besides the obvious material losses, a damaged reputation may be even more costly in the long run.
It is against this backdrop the logistics industry is now taking another look at video technology and the complete traceability which systems integration provides.
A fully integrated system
The ideal arrangement is for cameras to be positioned all along a company’s process chain, with particular emphasis on points where goods are handled and scanned or otherwise registered in the management system. The first point is usually where goods arrive and are unloaded. As the process is recorded on video, the video data is automatically paired up in real-time with the barcode or RFID data. This comes either from the management system or directly from the scanners. This linkage between the video data and the IDs is generated repeatedly throughout the company every time the goods are handled and ID data gathered – typically at the goods inwards checking point, at picking, packing and at dispatch.
It is against this backdrop the
logistics industry is now taking
another look at video technology
and the complete traceability which
systems integration provides
In operations where small stock items are picked and packed by hand, workstations are fitted with overhead cameras to record the process from above. High resolution IP cameras capture every detail and document not only what is sorted or packed but also its condition. Meantime, overview cameras are depicting the wider context and recording events in the surrounding area. This ensures that the whole route through the company taken by each item is completely documented and becomes transparent thanks to the searchable database which gives easy, instant access to the relevant video recordings.
Geutebruck’s re_porter and GeViScope video platforms are both used in this kind of application. The choice depends on the particular requirements for speed, functionality, storage capacity etc. Both systems have open architecture and offer various interfaces for real time data transfer and they make the data immediately available for investigations or enquiries. Both allow employee rights to be protected for example with privacy zones to mask specific areas of a scene and with dual key access to image data and export functions to prevent misuse.
Instant access to video data
With either of these systems you can view each process stage at the click of a mouse. Searching using the customisable user interface is extremely easy. You enter the barcode of a missing item in the search mask and a list of all the relevant scan events appears. Once you can see where the item was last scanned, you can call up the relevant camera pictures and watch the recording to see what happened to it subsequently. A ‘template walker’ function allows you to navigate easily back and forth between different scenes/locations to follow the item’s movements. The video pictures provide detailed information about the number, condition and packaging of the goods and can be exported as snapshots or video clips.
These pictures and video clips are useful as supporting evidence of quantity or condition for passing on to the next stage in a process or a supply chain, and if necessary, they can be submitted to the authorities for intervention if theft is suspected. The video footage is secure against manipulation and is accepted as legal evidence in resolving claims, irregularities and criminal prosecutions.
Geutebruck’s re_porter and GeViScope
video platforms have open architecture
and offer various interfaces for real time
data transfer and they make the data
immediately available for investigations
Since seamless video documentation enables you to trace all events right through a supply chain from unloading to loading it also clarifies the transfer of liability at the interfaces between one company and another. “Faced with a claim for compensation,” explains Schmid, “an innocent company can use its pictorial evidence to prove that irregularities did not occur within its operation - and it can do this very quickly and efficiently.”
Error analysis and process optimisation
It’s never wise to regard current procedures as set in stone. Careful analysis can often reveal potential for improvement. The video documentation and in particular, the searchable database generated when video and stock data are linked, makes it much easier to find errors which are repeatedly occurring at the same place, to deduce why, and to work out how to eliminate the cause.
This process improvement approach can benefit everyone in the supply chain. “Companies without visualisation systems are often operating in the dark and can only proactively investigate a small proportion of incidents,” reports Schmid. “With the right technology you can resolve or avoid significantly more irregularities. This enables a better quality management system to be implemented and the quality of processes to be improved. As a result process risks are reduced and the supply chain becomes more efficient.”
Health and safety can benefit too. With video to help determine the cause of accidents, it is easier to identify hazards and locations where near-misses occur. Training or other action to eliminate bad working practices can improve the company’s accident record and reduce associated insurance costs. Footage of accidents can be much more effective than words in raising awareness and getting the message across about the inherent risks.
“These additional management functions are how the investment delivers significant added value,” explains Katharina Geutebrück, Geutebruck managing director, “and why on average these integrated systems pay for themselves in ten to fifteen months.”
The voice of experience
The fast growing internet retailer redcoon has been using a Geutebruck integrated video solution since early 2013 when its distribution operation for eight European countries moved to its new purpose-built logistics centre in Erfurt, Germany.
This 53,000 square metre facility holds over 400,000 items at peak periods and is equipped with all the latest technology. Redcoon invested more than two million euros in IT infrastructure, servers and productivity monitoring, including the camera system, with the aim of ensuring same-day shipping for 99% of stock.
"I can only advise other companies
to exploit every possible advantage
from visualisation technology. A
modern video system doesn’t just
record pictures, it offers many other
With entertainment electronics, computers, household gadgets and other compact, high value items featuring strongly in the company’s offering, the requirements for the centre’s security system were very high. Protecting against intruders and theft was a priority from the start so a VdS class C intruder alarm system with access control functionality, a comprehensive IP video solution were installed as well as a top level management system to visualize all the functions.
Nihat Ademoglu, redcoon’s project manager for the Erfurt centre recalls that the company initially saw video only as a security measure, in particular for monitoring of the loading and unloading processes. “However,” he admits, “as the project developed it became apparent that the chief benefit of the video system was in controlling the materials handling systems and the processes.” The link between process data and video system data makes the documentation of liability transfer much simpler and provides protection against legal claims by third parties. It ensures that each shipment is accurately documented. “It means we can ship up to 30,000 packages per day and the visualisation system helps us to keep track of it all.”
“From our experience of the technology,”
recommends Ademoglu, “I can only advise other companies to exploit every possible advantage from visualisation technology. A modern video system doesn’t just record pictures, it offers many other benefits:- it supports searches and preserves evidence; lets you manage events, flexibly and cost efficiently. And this transforms video surveillance from being just a security system into an important tool for logistics. – At one time camera pictures were only of interest to security guards but now they are important for supply chain professionals too.”