Loren Eggert, vice president of distribution and fulfillment at Fingerhut Co., was telling me that he was tired of shipping air. It was costing his company money to ship all the nothing that wedges its way in around the multitude of items in the cartons leaving the distribution center. Size does matter when you’re talking about shipping containers.
Fingerhut is an established catalog and online merchandiser, offering more than 13,000 items. You can buy anything from a 12-foot inflatable boat (you have to provide your own air), to a remote-controlled mouse with which to torment your cat. Getting both such items into a carton, with a minimal amount of unused space, or without using too much dunnage, was Eggert’s challenge.
There are a couple ways to achieve essentially the same results. You can go the software route or the hardware route.
Eggert opted for the software route. To do so, he moved packaging to the first priority of order fulfillment — a place where most packaging professionals argue it should be.
“The Container Advantage program [HighJump Software] is where we now start our order fulfillment process,” explains Eggert. “We receive the orders from the host computer, pass them through the Container Advantage program, which puts the order into ‘parcels’ and selects the most economical size corrugated container for the order.”
At the same time, the computer is already checking for the best carrier to ship the order. All this information is then used in the pick-and-pack plan for order fulfillment.
Eggert says using the software program to consolidate and prioritize orders has allowed the company to reduce the amount of corrugated it uses. Currently it uses about 65 different size cartons, 40 of which are used in minimal amounts.
And what about air reduction? Eggert says the company is still shipping about 18 percent air in those boxes, but it’s better than in the past.
This latest offering from HighJump adds to an increasing number of packaging software programs on the market. Certainly one of the more powerful tools for packaging professionals was introduced last fall by 3M. Its Integrated Packaging Tool provides a secure, central repository for packaging graphics, text and templates, plus specifications for virtually every customer, distributor, regulator and carrier anywhere in the world with whom you do business. It’s Web-based and operates in real time.
This tool brings all the elements of the packaging process together, whether structural, graphical or textual. It also addresses the increasing costs and inefficiencies that plague manufacturing and supply chain management, process and package engineering, as well as IT, legal, marketing and others.
I said there was also a hardware solution to this problem. Actually, it’s a combo hardware/software solution. If you want to find the smallest possible container for your product, or immediately know the weight, size and shape of the carton, you need accurate measurements. Measuring a 10-piece wok set can be a challenge if you don’t automate the collection process. To get it right requires sophisticated sensing machinery. Products such as the CubiScan from Quantronix, however, do non-contact measuring, capturing data in the process for determining carton size and manifesting.
In the world of packaging, as elsewhere, there is a need to manage complete, up-to-date and accurate information related to changing customer requirements, evolving packaging specs, government regulations and customs stipulations. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. It’s not a question of whether the information exists; it’s a question of how to effectively access it. For packaging professionals to attract the attention of management, in a positive way, you’ll have to adopt new technologies to do what you know is the right thing.
Clyde E. Witt, executive editor