You can’t manage what you don’t measure. So, how do you manage—or measure—all those boxes in the warehouse?
The idea of using dimensional and weight data has long been attractive in the parcel shipping and distribution business. Shippers and carriers are always looking for ways to optimize the use of buildings and equipment. However, traditional ways to measure and weigh cartons can be time consuming and labor intensive. And, when humans are involved, there is the risk of inaccuracy. Automated dimension- scanning equipment reduces, and in some cases, eliminates, those problems.
We recently had a conversation with Randy Neilson of Quantronix, manufacturer of CubiScan (www. cubiscan.com) about products, trends and topics in dimensioning—cubing and weighing.
MHM: How does a dimensioning system work?
Neilson: Dimensioning systems use the latest advances in sensing technology, such as ultrasound, lasers, vision/CCD cameras and infrared light, to scan an item or parcel’s length, width and height. This technology is often combined with others, such as barcode scanning systems, label printers and in-line or static weighing systems to provide a complete dimensioning, weighing and tracking system. All cube and weight information collected by these systems is electronically stored or automatically transferred to a host processing system where it can be put to profitable use. In some cases, these data transfer solutions are ‘off-the-shelf’ and compatible with most computerized warehouse systems. In other cases, they are customized to fit specific application requirements. Regardless, they are simple to use and quickly becoming a vital element in the process of making dimensioning equipment an integral part of an operation.
MHM: What kinds of companies are good candidates for cubing and scanning technologies?
Neilson: Candidates for using automated cube scanning technologies are typically shippers or carriers who find they bulk out their trailer before they weigh out—meaning the trailer, container, etc., fills before weight restrictions are met. Consequently, we have a lot of volume-centric tariffs, along with weight-based standards. If a shipper or carrier could, by cubing its payloads [determining length, width and height], compute a volumebased shipping charge that can be compared to the more traditional, weight-based charges, they can then bill in the most profitable way. With accurate cube information, the carrier can avoid filling its fleets with light freight, only to be penalized by conventional weight-based revenue charges, and the shipper can avoid those expensive charge backs.
MHM: We’re seeing a general growth trend in the small-parcel business due to catalog and Internet shopping. Are these folks adopting cubing and weighing technologies?
Neilson: Yes, they are. Today, the demand is for freight to be moved faster than ever and on evertighter delivery schedules. Carriers often find it much too difficult to take time to measure freight manually and still meet the customer’s schedule for delivery. Ultimately, the carrier will choose to forfeit the potential revenue that could be gained by dimensioning the freight rather than delay delivery.
MHM: What can automating this part of the distribution process do for material handling managers?
Neilson: It’s now possible for the carrier or shipper to dimension and weigh freight rapidly and accurately, without compromising throughput or the operation’s strict delivery schedules. And, there’s a hidden advantage in the use of an automated dimensioning and weighing system. The carrier is able to collect both dimensional as well as actual weight data simultaneously with no extra work. The benefit? If a parcel does not ‘dim out’ [have a greater dim-weight charge than weight-based charge], it will still be reweighed to ensure the accuracy of the parcel’s declared weight. Many carriers find this reweighing process itself to be a profitable investment.
In addition, for the distribution center manager, it’s a huge efficiency-enhancing tool. Significant amounts of money can be saved by applying accurate dimensional and weight data to the decision sized cartons for order packing and shipping and optimize the use of space within a container or trailer through effective load planning.
MHM: Many of our readers work near the end of the supply chain—usually within fulfillment to retail stores or direct to consumer. Is there a benefit there?
Neilson: Yes. Often during the fulfillment and shipping function, the distribution manager finds him or herself paying unwanted, and certainly unneeded, expensive chargebacks to a carrier. This occurs when the shipper manifests low-density freight by weight only, and the carrier later dimensions the freight so that a more accurate, dimensionalbased tariff may be applied. When this happens, the shipper or fulfillment house has no option but to absorb the additional carrierimposed back charges, which can rarely be reclaimed by the shipper from the customer and can amount to significant, unnecessary costs.
MHM: Earlier, you told us a bit about how modern dimensioning equipment does its job. It sounds complicated. How does a person know what to use?
Neilson: No, it’s not, really. There’s a wide range of product configurations available to choose from. Remember, first it’s essential to assess your needs and evaluate the operation. Successful use of cubing equipment is highly dependent on a full understanding of what you are getting and the limitations associated with it. Product offerings include small-parcel, portable cubing and weighing workstations; high-speed, in-line cubing machines for automated sort facilities; and large static systems, which are capable of measuring and weighing large parcels or even palletized loads.
MHM: Can you give us a short, or specific, example of how dimensioning is used in distribution?
Neilson: Certainly. One of our large distribution customers undertook a project to improve its distribution and logistics functions. This began with the acquisition of a comprehensive computerized warehouse management system. To accomplish this mission, among other things, the WMS needed accurate and timely dimension and weight data. This would allow for local and immediate decisions at the distribution centers involving directed put-away, pick, repack and load planning.
Manually capturing accurate dimension and weight information for thousands of products was a huge undertaking. Faced with this task, they initially considered a manual process. This involved tape measures and clipboards. It was quickly rejected as too time consuming, error prone and expensive.
To automate and economize the process, we provided a CubiScan 100, an automated cubing and weighing system. It’s a static dimension scanning and weighing system. It automates the process of measuring and weighing packaged material and then electronically transfers all captured data to a host system.
This particular customer included an optional mobility pack, consisting of a mobile cart, PC, 12-volt battery and battery charger. This enabled them to take the CubiScan to the freight, rather than the freight to it. Operators could work anywhere in the warehouse for up to 10 hours at a time, without restriction. To complete the system, they also used the CubiScan’s data interface software, Qbit, to create a seamless and reliable data transfer solution to the WMS.