In the parcel shipping and handling industry, the focus is to boost productivity, specifically with cost-effective hardware and software to maximize operating efficiency. Your challenge is moving more packages in less time while collecting data and saving or making money doing it. These goals can be met through the use of new technology in weighing, barcode scanning and dimensioning.
Dimensioning is the newest of these technologies providing additional information to the shipping and handling industry. You can automatically determine the length, width and height of a package or object and calculate the volume. With that information, you can determine the space the package requires. You can also compare the actual weight to the volume and charge for what the package should weigh.
Industry researchers discovered that virtually every vehicle carrying packages for rapid delivery left terminals fully loaded but under weight. Comparisons of box weight to size found that seldom do two comparably sized boxes have the same weight. Further studies showed a relationship between box size and expected actual weight. The industry has developed a standard expected weight-per-box volume. Using this standard conversion for volume-weight shows that almost 70% of shipped boxes were under weight for the size, resulting in missed financial opportunities.
By adding the ability to determine package volume to material handling systems, carriers and shippers can determine the volume-weight (referred to as dim-weight) and recover lost revenue. This revenue recovery afforded excellent ROI. They also found that knowing the dimensions and volume of packages provided much more.
Determining Bottom Line Numbers
As indicated above, there is more to dimensioning than just revenue recovery. Recently, a carrier industry representative commented, I let accountants use revenue recovery to justify systems so I can develop the database to determine when and where to add capacity, adjust routes and determine the number of planes and trucks to add to the fleet. This information gives our company an advantage in forecasting accurate investments needed to grow our business.
The individual was right! With package volume, weight and customer history, you can identify needed expansion and investments. Customers or industries can also be identified where deals and incentives can be offered to capture and hold business. The information can also help optimize warehouse storage and retrieval.
Dimensioning for the Small Shipper
The small shipper or mail/parcel post handler and warehouse operator can take advantage of smaller systems that capture both dimensions and actual weight. These devices make it possible to automatically provide a package to determine shipping cost and optimize storage space and packing materials. The smallest units will work for cuboidal or square boxes but not for irregular shaped packages.
Throughput rate is key to equipment selection. Shippers and warehouse operators generally have throughput rates between 100 to 2,000 packages per day. Dimension-weigh equipment meets these requirements and can be configured to meet certain specific data needs. One special need is individual item weight and volume where a box has multiple items.
Dimensioning for the Carrier
Carriers need equipment for their lower volume service centers and high-volume hubs. They are looking for weight where possible and dimensions for all packages.
As throughput requirements and conveyor belt speeds increase and spacing between packages decreases, capturing actual weight becomes more difficult and introduces additional challenges to dimensioning. At throughput levels of 7,000 packages per hour and higher, there will be side-by-side packages on the belt and packages touching each other.
In these situations, special equipment and software are required to determine the dimensions of each package, especially touching packages. With multiple touching packages on the conveyor belt, this technology looks at packages and accurately determines dimensions and volume for up to 15,000 packages per hour.
Dimensioning Software in Action
After selecting the type of equipment for your needs, care must be taken in the actual equipment selection. Many units use lasers, some are Class I with no danger to personnel and some are Class II or III, requiring special protection for operators and service personnel. The technology of some systems can be affected by ambient conditions like light and sound. Certain systems use single point light sources having a fan-type light array that permit shadowing while others use parallel light array with no shadowing affect. For operations with multiple and touching packages, selection of parallel light array systems provide the most accurate package size.
As packages move under the dimensioning device, they will pass through a light array to reflect measurements back to the unit. The system will analyze differences between sent and received beams of light, instantly developing an intensity map of the package determining all dimensions.
Some systems provide users real-time information concerning packages in terms of size, volume and dimensioning status as well as graphically depicting package movement through the dimensioning zone. Packages can be digitally displayed as they are dimensioned and a package record displayed.
The display shows a running total of packages processed and percentage of dimensioned packages. The number of packages successfully dimensioned is expected to be 90% to 95% for single pass applications where the belt loading includes the total mix of packages traveling at speeds of 250 fpm plus.
Using dimensioning/weighing equipment, shippers can accurately charge customers for shipments based on actual weight versus dim-weight, knowing that the carrier will charge the shipper based on this same comparison after picking up the shipment. Shippers may be back-billed several days later, long after the customer has been billed. How do you protect yourself and your bottom line?
Shippers often add unspecified high standard cost as freight cost to cover several things including dim-weight back charges. In the e-commerce world, your competitors may be charging a smaller amount, an actual amount and taking your business. Shippers who use dim-weigh equipment can determine actual charges before the package leaves the facility. Not only does this allow shippers to charge customers the right freight amount, but it may also encourage carriers to give better shipping rates.
To be successful when using dimensioning and dimension-weigh equipment, determine your goals with the equipment, understand the technology offered and protect your investment by purchasing equipment certified by a government agency. The best advice is to work with a company that has national and international ability to service your account.
Ted Hendricks is products manager for Mettler-Toledo. For additional information, contact him at 800-836-0836, extension 551.