Barbara T. Nessinger, Chief Editor
Interest in systems that accurately capture certain item data—such as package weight and size—has been growing steadily over the past few years. In 2015, the big parcel carriers (UPS, FedEx, etc.) began calculating shipping fees based on size and weight, aka, dimensional (DIM) weight. This caused a shift toward industries installing more dimensioning systems, otherwise referred to as cubing and weighing equipment.
Besides the obvious benefits of lower shipping charges, many of these technologies are also being used to help with storage and retrieval (ASRS) or to automate quality-control protocols. And, as the equipment improves, many are finding dimensioning systems that possess camera-based imaging and other sophisticated technologies to measure oddly or irregularly shaped items.
An automated dimensioning system is traditionally used at outbound shipping locations; however, some facilities are installing them at receiving as well. This can help optimize warehouse space and identify packing issues that might arise at the end of the process. Installing a dimensioner at the start, in the receiving stage can help collect data that is useful for warehousing.
Just Some of the areas of operation in which a good cubing and weighing/dimensional data system can come into play include facility design, slotting, storage and picking. In addition, such systems can assist in verification, pallet- and load-building, and packing operations.
Why Use a Logistics/Dimensioning Program?
The proper implementation of a logistics program will save money by maximizing the capacity of a warehouse and the capability of the transportation fleet, if applicable. These benefits are achieved with accurate knowledge of the volume and weight of the packages making up the shipments.
Absent a dimensioning system, employees are required to input information provided by the manufacturer. Or, they must manually measure to determine each SKU’s length, width and height. That information must then be entered into software, such as a warehouse management system (WMS), shipping or transportation management system (TMS) platform, or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Although common, this method is inherently labor-intensive and time-consuming. And, because human beings are entering (and sometimes measuring) the data, such methods are more prone to errors. Plus, irregularly shaped items or anomalies can’t be easily entered or handled.
An automated dimensioner can collect accurate size and weight information for many different-sized and -shaped items. This allows for accurate sizing of secondary packaging and also the ability to better utilize existing storage space. Not only are these systems inherently speedy; their precision is uncommonly accurate: to within 1in on pallet dimensions; within 1/5-1/4in when measuring a carton in motion (as on a conveyor); and to 1/1,000in when measuring a static carton.
ExpressCube is a manufacturer of state-of-the-art dimension and weighing equipment. It is used by the courier, freight and postal parcel services and their customers, and companies employing logistics to manage their warehouse, packaging and shipping needs.
The key to this company’s technology is a distributed microprocessor configuration that uses a combination of passive sensors and mathematical algorithms to quickly dimension boxes without moving parts or expensive laser technology. In addition to being relatively inexpensive, this approach provides a robust device that requires very little maintenance. ExpressCube integration with already-existing logistic software allows quick, accurate input of new and existing stock items into the system—guaranteeing the maximum benefits of a good logistic policy.
Going Mobile/Caught on Camera
Another option available from some companies is a mobile dimensioner. Having a mobile dimensioner lets an operator walk up and down every aisle, capturing cube data for all SKUs. It can be parked in the receiving dock, to measure new items moving forward. In this way, current cube and weight data is always available. Dimensioner mobility is becoming increasingly important, with particular interest among small- and medium-sized e-commerce operations. The technologies have become more affordable, accessible and agile.
Another trend in dimensioning/cubing & weighing is the use of cameras to capture digital documentation of the contents of each package. This can be done before any void fill is added, prior to the parcel being sealed. Many have internet connection/communication with the Ethernet, so they can add image-based validation to a shipping system. This can help with customer service, in that a company can visually show that the correct item was picked, packed properly, etc., before it ever leaves a warehouse.
Digital images can also help to verify compliance issues and proper labeling. The packed carton’s actual weight can be compared to its anticipated weight based on the picked items known dimensional weight information, for order quality control purposes. Improvements in speed and accuracy, and lowering costs have made 3D camera-based imaging systems ideal for dimensioning applications, as well.
Cubing and weighing systems might be best-known for their use in shipping operations, but they are clearly able to boost performance in multiple areas, when implemented properly and with forethought. When integrated with other systems—warehouse management systems, transportation management systems, etc.—today’s high-speed cubing and weighing systems can boost performance in a variety of ways. WMHS