June 2 2008 08:53 AM

With the year 2007 fresh out of the gate, a significant event took place as major shipping carriers implemented (or will be implementing soon) charges for dimensional weight- - charges based on the size of a parcel as opposed to simply its scale weight.

What this means to shippers is increased costs to ship large packages. While UPS was the first to implement dim-weight, other carriers, couriers and transportation companies will follow suit, or risk losing substantial revenue. The facts are that major carriers like UPS, FedEx, DHL and the Postal Service have been using dimension/weight combinations for years. Customer service staff keep a tape measure handy for large packages. It is entirely possible that a packages dimensional cost can exceed its actual weight charges (for example, a box of feather pillows). Industry analysts agree that these recent changes will have all carriers scrambling for their share of the size matters action.


Calculate Charges Before Shipment

Industry experts recognize the challenges for smaller couriers and shippers who will be unable to cost-justify the complex laser-based systems used for dimensional measurement. These companies will be either losing revenue opportunities or be faced with supplemental billing by their shipping companies after a parcel has left the building.


Michael McCarthy is VP of Operations of a mid-sized Canadian courier business, Cardinal Couriers. Our company was forced into dimensioning charges by the big players, says McCarthy. The problem was that Cardinal couldnt possibly measure each package manually, so we sought out the same systems that calculate DIM-weight used by organizations like UPS and FedEx. These were laser measuring devices, hardly affordable for our size of operation.


An Emerging, Affordable Solution

The Cardinal solution was to contract with Global Sensor Systems (GSS), a Canadian company specializing in electronic sensing technology. The system developed, called ExpressCube, combines horizontal and vertical sensor arrays containing passive dimensioning sensors. The arrays are mounted on a custom weight scale. When a package is placed on the scale, its dimensions are instantly determined, and the shipping weight is calculated by applying the appropriate DIM factor, which is computed and displayed by the ExpressCube systems digital display.


Our first system was installed right in our conveyor line, notes McCarthy. The operator simply positioned the parcel on the scale up against the sensor arrays. The weight and dimension data are captured by the system automatically and sent to our network via LAN for logistical and billing transactions.


The ExpressCube is completely self-contained, McCarthy continues, with all the software needed to interface with our accounting system. We are able to dimension and weigh up to 500 packages per hour per system.


Technology for the Smallest Operations

Global Sensor Systems has since developed a countertop version of the ExpressCube with a 24 footprint, more conducive for use in office mail centers and smaller shipping operations. The compact design still allows measurement of a 7.5 cubic foot parcel. ExpressCube says its open software design simplifies the device interface with the users own system. In addition, software vendors are incorporating the ExpressCube interface to allow the user to select from preprogrammed rates for various carriers, including the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx and UPS. The ExpressCube also has the capability to be built into countertops for added flexibility.


From a safety and maintenance perspective, the ExpressCube does not use lasers, calming the obvious eye injury concerns from management. The lack of moving parts coupled with solid-state technology is the heart of ExpressCubes low maintenance cost.


An example of the complexities shippers will be dealing with (and the obvious advantages of an automatic dimensioning system) comes from a recent DMM Advisory sent out by the USPS, which offers the following instructions for determining the dim-weight cost:


For rectangular (box-like) items, measure the length, width and height. The length is always the longest dimension. Round off each individual measurement to the nearest whole inch (20-1/4 inches is considered 20 inches; 20-3/4 inches is 21 inches). Next, multiply the length by the width by the height. The result is the cubic capacity expressed in cubic inches. If the result is 1,728 cubic inches or less, the parcel is less than one cubic foot and dimensional-weight pricing does not apply. If the result exceeds 1,728 cubic inches, divide it by 194 (the dim factor) to determine the dimensional weight. Round up any fraction of a pound to the next whole pound to get the dimensional-weight price for the parcel. If the actual weight of the parcel exceeds the dimensional weight, base the price on the actual weight.


Look for a rush for front-end dimensioning/weight systems
capable of protecting shipping customers from the inconvenience and paperwork associated with supplemental billing. Billing increases due to dimensional-weight penalties occurring two weeks after shipment or errors detected upon pick-up can soon be a memory by applying technology prior to shipment.


One thing is certain: all shippers are now dealing with dimensional weighing, whether it is acknowledged or not. With constantly increasing operating costs, carriers are going to rely more on dimensional weight as one of their key tools to increase their revenue streams. Dimensional weight is here to stay.


Bill May is President of WJM Marketing, LLC and a consultant to companies in the material handling industry. ExpressCube offers its patent-pending DIM sensing technology for sale to OEMs, opening the door for vendors to get leading-edge technology to shippers quickly and affordably. Please visit www.expresscube.com.