When it comes to modern warehouse management, every cubic foot counts. Gone are the days when seat-of-the-pants space management and a tape measure got you by. Add to that the recent introduction of dimension-based shipping rates by FedEx, UPS and other carriers – and you’re left with a situation where many businesses are struggling to control costs, calculate accurate rates for their online customers, or even to audit shipping invoices.
As such, many shippers and distribution center managers have found themselves eyeing a new dimensioning system. When investing in such a solution, it’s important to select one that can help you leverage all the potential benefits of dimensioning – today and in the future.
What to look for?
Basic dimensioning hardware has been available for some time, though much of it was developed when dimensioning was just a niche market, and the demand for speed and capability was not as great as it is in modern logistics, distribution and e-commerce settings. As a result, dimensioning technology is undergoing a rapid evolution – with some solutions far ahead of the pack.
The optimal system for your facility will depend on your slotting and shipping volume, the size and types of items in your stream, and the level of investment you want to make. Options run the gamut from labor-intensive tabletop units to expensive tunnels that require significant buildout. In the middle, is an emerging class of solutions that offer the advantages of a small footprint, but – by using the latest sonar and optical technologies – are packed with speed and capabilities older devices could only dream of.
Speed and accuracy – First and foremost: how fast is it? Time is money and a system that requires three, five or even seven seconds will be a bottleneck on your line. It becomes an even bigger issue for warehouses looking to jumpstart their dimensioning program by scanning every stock-keeping unit (SKU). Look for a system that dimensions items in under a second. Dimensions should also be accurate within 0.25in, and certified as legal-for-trade.
Any shape – The package stream is trending towards more irregular-shaped and unboxed items. Select a dimensioning tool that can measure any item – polybags, tubes, bundles, and any shape at all. You’ll avoid set-asides that require costly manual intervention. You’ll also eliminate surprise chargebacks from your carrier (plus many irregular items are almost impossible to measure manually).
Installation flexibility – Quick-setup, ‘plug-and-play’ systems cost much less to install and maintain. Select a system that mounts anywhere, without disrupting your existing line or requiring costly assembly or buildout.
Alignment-free – This is a critical aspect of the actual, effective speed of a device that is often overlooked. Pick a system that doesn’t require the careful placement or alignment of items, which wastes time and causes errors. The best systems have a “field of view” and can dimension anything, in any orientation, within it.
Automatic scanning – Another important component of speed is automation. Many devices require that the operator place an item, then hit a button and “stand back.” These small steps add up and are real productivity killers. Choose a system that detects a new item automatically, and scans instantly.
A photo of every item – Built-in imaging is fast-becoming a must-have in dimensioning hardware. Photos virtually eliminate picking errors, confirm item condition upon arrival at (or shipment from) your facility, and are invaluable for tracking and claim protection. One shipper we interviewed uses images to reduce loss of high-value items throughout his stream.
State-of-the-art data output – Avoid proprietary connection protocols, which invariably lead to cost and complexity. The gold standard is XML-based application programming interface (API) integration – the simplest and most widely-accepted approach for many types of advanced technology. Some devices also come pre-configured for connection with popular shipping programs.
Complete data capture – The most advanced dimensioning systems support scanning complete item data, including barcodes and optical character recognition (OCR). In certain installations, this is an invaluable productivity booster.
Centralized fleet management – If you expect to deploy more than a single unit, it’s important to choose a system that supports ‘dashboard-based’ monitoring and provisioning, including automated firmware updating and routine device ‘health checks.’ That will keep your system operating at its most productive, and enable you to get the most from your investment.
Cloud connectivity – This is this is one of the most exciting areas of development in dimensioning so make sure you choose a device that offers Cloud integration. Much more than just a buzzword, a Cloud connection means you’ll have a permanent record of all the data scanned from your stream – which is then available for analysis to generate operational insights across your operation. The sky’s the limit. Even small facilities will generate enough data that Cloud integration is imperative.
Brian Leary heads up business development for QubeVu dimensioning (www.qubevu.com). He has extensive strategic and operational experience across the logistics industry – working globally for companies such as Pitney Bowes, Neopost, Ascom Hasler, Xerox and UPS. He resides in Connecticut in the USA, with his wife and two sons.
December 5, 2016