Up and Mobile: What’s Hot in Dimensioning Systems

Barbara T. Nessinger, Chief Editor

It should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: it is important to understand the size and weight of inventory. In the supply chain, knowing exactly what you are storing and shipping enables a facility to be used more efficiently. It can also increase a warehouse or DC’s velocity.

Cubing and weighing, therefore, has become of huge importance. Also referred to as “dimensioning,” such equipment has been recognized as being able to optimize material handling operations. But, with the recent changes to UPS and FedEx’s shipping fees, dimensioning suddenly has become an essential part of doing business.

Carrier Changes

Back in 2017, FedEx and UPS announced they would begin using dimensional weight rather than actual weight of items being shipped from small packages to full pallets. The USPS soon followed, and now it also uses dimensional weight to assess shipping charges.

Dimensional weight is determined by multiplying the three dimensions of the package, known as total package volume. This number is divided by a factor to produce the “dim weight,” which is used to determine the shipping charges. Recently, UPS has added a fee for incorrect dim weights provided by shippers, including incorrect or missing package dimensions and incorrect weights.

By knowing the size and weight of inventory, both shippers who have storage facilities, as well as carriers, reap benefits. For one, transportation vessels can be optimized. This becomes increasingly important as shipping costs rise. Moreover, the “I-want-it-now” consumer mindset, combined with growing labor shortages, can often create a perfect storm of problems for those involved in order fulfillment.

Those companies that are using dimensioning equipment have reaped some unexpected rewards. Some of the benefits, beyond the objective of lower shipping charges, include increased storage density, within manual and auto storage/retrieval systems, as well as better quality control through automation.

Today’s dimensioning technologies have evolved. Some are outfitted with mobility, camera-based imaging and sophisticated algorithms; these features can measure irregular shapes and detect anomalies in the data.

Going Mobile

Portable, or mobile dimensioners, can be used anywhere. However, they also have technologies that can assess the volumetric size of an irregular object. This can be anything from tiny dimensions (think nuts/bolts) to larger items, such as appliances and irregular shapes.

A mobile dimensioner gives employees the ability to walk up the aisles—without moving product—thus capturing cube data for all the SKUs. If parked in a stationary place, like the receiving dock, it can measure new items and keep that cube/weight data in a master file.

Going with a dimensioning system need not be costly, either. Some companies, such as ExpressCube, help companies employ logistics to manage their warehouse, packaging and shipping needs. ExpressCube systems use advanced technology engineering that has created a product that is more economical than comparable systems on the market.

The key to this 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 very robust device with very little maintenance required.

Said Don Hull, of ExpressCube in an interview in WMHS (July 2018): “The ability to recapture revenue from minimum dimensional weight has been out of reach for many regional carriers, due to the high initial costs for dimensional weighing equipment.”

Another company, ParcelCube, makes Parcelcube mobile, which is a mobile unit suitable for warehouse inventory. It moves to collect master weight and dimensional data from products in a warehouse or DC to the facility’s WMS or ERP system.

Things are Looking Up

Additionally, some new dimensioning technology provides overhead images of items being dimensioned. This can assist both pickers and packers who are filling orders. Having the image can help facilitate correct order fulfillment; it’s a visual confirmation of what was ordered and what is being picked.

E-commerce applications, especially, can benefit from this capability, because often, they need to ship multiple items in one order. The ability to combine dimensions and weight through the warehouse management system helps to determine the right box size for each order.

A good implementation of a logistics and dimensioning program will save money by maximizing the capacity of a warehouse and the capability of the transportation fleet. These benefits are achieved with accurate knowledge of the volume and weight of the packages making up the shipments. WMHS