November 24, 2010
material handling update | Cubing & Weighing

10 ways to boost DC performance with cubing/weighing systems

Cubing and weighing systems may be best known for their use in shipping operations. But they can boost performance in a variety of other areas as well.

By David Maloney

As anyone who's ever had to gather weight and dimensional data on a pile of packages can attest, dimensioning systems (also known as cubing and weighing systems) can take a lot of the pain out of the process. Instead of wrestling with rulers or tape measures, all the user has to do is place the item or carton onto a cubing device (or in the case of a pallet, within range of a laser-based measuring system), and the rest happens automatically. In many cases, the process takes less than a minute.

Not only are these systems speedy; they're also precise. The data they provide is accurate to within 1 inch on pallet dimensions; within 2/10 to 1/4 of an inch when measuring a carton in motion on a conveyor; and to within 1/1,000 of an inch when measuring a static carton.

"You can never come close to that with a tape measure," says Randy Neilson, director of sales and marketing for Quantronix, which markets the CubiScan line of dimensioning devices. "Cubing systems can improve your overall accuracy and consistency."

As for how this equipment can be used in DC operations, there are a lot of possibilities—more than you might imagine. Although they're perhaps best known for their role in package rating and shipping operations, that's just part of the story. When integrated with other systems—warehouse management systems, transportation management systems, and the like—today's high-speed cubing and weighing systems can boost DC performance in a variety of other ways. What follows is a brief look at 10 areas of an operation where good dimensional data can come into play.

1. Facility design. When a company starts planning for a new facility, one of the first things the designer will want is a rundown on the products that will be stored there: How large are they? How much do they weigh? Will they be stored individually or on pallets? The answers will dictate everything from the design of the facility's picking and packing areas to the type of storage that will be used in the facility.

2. Storage. Good dimensional data can help DCs make the most of their storage space. Once stock-keeping units (SKUs) have been weighed and measured, their profiles can be uploaded to a warehouse management system (WMS) for use determining the optimal storage location for each item—where in the building it should go and whether it should be stored in flow racks, shelving, or another storage medium. Not only does that help optimize storage space, but it also ensures that the SKUs will actually fit in their assigned spaces.

If the SKUs are to be placed in automated storage systems, such as automated storage and retrieval systems, carousels, vertical lift modules, or robotic storage systems, the dimensional data can help assure items are stored as densely as possible.

3. Slotting Dimensional data can help streamline the slotting process. Once the SKUs' dimensions have been captured, they're imported into special slotting software (typically from a WMS), which uses that information—in conjunction with data on order characteristics like pick frequency—to determine how to arrange products within the pick zones to optimize order fulfillment.

4. Picking. In operations where workers pick directly into shipping cartons, dimensional data can be key to preventing carton selection errors. All too often, pickers are left to make their best guesses as to what size carton to use, but that can prove costly. If the box is too big, the company ends up paying to ship air. If the box is too small, the packer has to remove the items and repack them, which can slow throughput. Dimensional data can help ensure the right size carton is used.

On top of that, the data can be helpful in determining where individual items should go in a carton and the order in which they should be picked to ensure everything fits neatly inside the box without crushing the items on the bottom. In addition, accurate weight information on SKUs can promote good ergonomic practices by ensuring that order cartons weigh no more than 40 pounds.

5. Verification. Once an SKU's weight has been captured and uploaded to the WMS, the information can be used to verify picking. As each order is received, the WMS calculates how much it should weigh, based on the weight of the carton itself plus each of the items it contains. After the order has been assembled, the carton is weighed—often via an in-line scale on a conveyor system. If the actual weight differs from the expected weight, the carton can be set aside for further examination. Automated verification can cut down on the need for manual order inspections, resulting in substantial savings in time and labor.

6. Packing. Dimensional data can go a long way toward helping companies optimize their packaging. Shipping items in oversized cartons stuffed with filler can lead to enormous waste and inefficiency—and it happens a lot more often than you might think. "Most companies are shipping cartons that are 40 to 60 percent too large. Shipping packages that are too large is expensive," says Hanko Kiessner, CEO of Packsize, a supplier of automated packaging systems.

Good dimensional data opens the door to a number of solutions, including the use of custom cartons. Packsize, for example, offers systems that use dimensional information to build a custom carton in about 30 seconds. That might sound expensive, but Kiessner says custom cartons actually save shippers money. He reports that with Packsize's automated systems, customers typically save 3 to 8 percent on their shipping charges, in addition to cutting their corrugated costs by 20 percent and reducing their use of fill materials by 80 to 100 percent.

Dimensional data can also help with packaging optimization in operations that use standard-sized cartons. For example, the data can be used in computer-aided carton selection as well as for decisions about the optimal amount of void fill and other packing materials to use.

7. Pallet building. Dimensional data can be quite useful when it comes to building stable pallets. Once the data has been entered into the WMS, the system can use it to determine how items should be stacked on the pallet (typically with larger and heavier items on the bottom) to ensure load stability.

8. Load building. Not only can dimensional and weight data help with building pallets, it can help with building loads for trailers and other conveyances. Whether an operation is shipping full pallets, cases, irregularly shaped products, or a mix of all of the above, it can feed the data into shipping, warehousing, or load building software, which then determines how to load the truck to make the best use of space while staying within weight limits.

9. Shipping. The advent of "dimensional weight" or "dim weight" billing has changed the economics of parcel shipping, but good dimensional data can help shippers avoid costly mistakes. Under the carriers' dim weight rules, a shipper tendering a large, low-density package must determine both the package's actual weight and its dimensional weight (which takes into account the package's length, width, and height). If the dimensional weight exceeds the actual weight, that becomes the basis for the freight charge. By gathering precise dimensional data on their packages, shippers can ensure they're rating their parcels correctly and avoid chargebacks by carriers.

But it's not just about avoiding chargebacks. Good dimensional data also allows shippers to estimate carrier charges for rate shopping purposes.

10. Customer service. Good service includes providing customers with good data. By passing along dimensional data on your products, you give customers the opportunity to use that information to streamline their own operations. Plus, if you charge for shipping, you can boost your credibility with customers by including the relevant dimensional and weight data on invoices. That way, they can be assured they're being charged appropriately for freight.

About the Author

David Maloney
Senior Editor, Special Projects & eContent
David Maloney has been a business journalist for more than 20 years. He joined DC Velocity in April of 2004. Prior to joining DC Velocity, David was senior editor for Modern Materials Handling, where he wrote feature articles and the majority of that magazine's cover stories. David also has extensive experience as a broadcast journalist. Before writing for supply chain publications, he was a television producer and director in Pittsburgh. David combines a background of reporting on logistics with his video production experience to bring new opportunities to DC Velocity readers, including Webcasts and Web-based videos highlighting top distribution and logistics facilities. David also serves as a principal of our sister organization, Agile Business Media (ABM) Services.

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