Gathering Cube Data on SKUs
As both FedEx and UPS extend their dimensional weight pricing model (previously reserved for packages with dimensional weight greater than 3 cubic feet) to all ground shipments, many companies are embarking on initiatives to develop better cubing and cartonization capabilities with the ultimate goal of reducing box sizes. Under the new system which goes into effect, January 1, 2015, shipping costs will go up on packages where the dimensional weight exceeds the actual weight.
A prerequisite for implementing cubing or cartonization software is an accurate database of the cubic dimensions and weights of every SKU. There are actually a number of reasons that this data is important to maintain beyond cartonization, such as the following processes and initiatives:
- Ongoing slotting initiatives
- Bin replenishment calculations
- Enable picking directly to the shipping container rather than totes
- Directed put-away calculations
- Support faster and more accurate DC re-design/DC design projects
Companies typically fall into three categories in regards to maintaining dimensional data:
- Companies that have cube data and actively use it: These companies are likely already leveraging cartonization.
- Companies that have cube data but have not yet used it: While the heavy-lifting of gathering the data has been completed, the accuracy of the database should be viewed as highly suspect until it has been tested and validated.
- Companies that have not yet gathered cube data: These companies have some work ahead of them, to be sure. There is no time like the present to begin gathering this data. As the paragraph above points out, good cube data can very useful. Companies should immediately begin building this database based on the guidelines listed below.
There are several methods for gathering cube data on SKUs, each with its own merits:
1. Hand-measuring: For companies with less than 5,000 SKUs, this may be a viable method of data gathering. Each SKU is hand-measured and a paper list is maintained, which is eventually logged into a proper database. While this method does not involve expensive equipment, it is very time consuming and prone to measuring errors and inconsistencies.
2. Cubing devices: Ultrasonic cubing devices have been in use for many years and are a reliable means of gathering dimensional data on SKUs. A device from Cubiscan is shown in the pictures to the right (Image souce: Quantronix, Inc.). A SKU is placed in the target area of the device, and then a series of ultrasonic waves measures the dimensions of the object in a matter of seconds. The weight can also be simultaneously captured. If the item is bar-coded, then the SKU number can be scanned as well.
Cubing devices are a fast way to capture dimensional data for a large number of SKUs. The technology, however, is not inexpensive. If the data gathering is likely to be a one-time exercise and new parts are introduced in relatively small quantities, then a company should investigate renting a device for a month or two to build the database rather than buying one. Some consulting firms also offer cubing as a service.
Cubing devices can often be mounted on a cart with a portable power supply to allow workers to walk through the distribution center and scan each item, rather than having to move product to the device. This is often a more efficient way to gather the data. Cubing devices usually capture the data and write it to a very simple database which can then be imported into a spreadsheet. Several user-defined fields are usually available as well.
3. Manufacturer-provided data: The manufacturer’s product specifications can be another source of dimensional data. In Commonwealth’s experience, the accuracy and formatting of this data varies greatly from company to company. Caution should be used when utilizing data from this source.
One of the most common sources of dimensional errors lies in the improper capturing of pack-size data. As the cubing exercise begins, the individuals capturing the data should be thoroughly trained on the correct method for noting pack sizes. It is usually advisable to capture as many pack sizes as possible for a single product (i.e. unit dimensions, inner-pack dimensions, master pack dimensions). It is also a good idea to have the dimensional data gathered by a small, core group of workers to ensure consistency in the manner in which pack sizes are accounted for.
It is important to note that some parts come in many shapes and sizes and this can often cause misleading results. Many items can be neatly nested and can be shipped or stored in a fraction of their calculated storage requirements, while other items may be fragile or awkwardly shaped and require additional space. Keep this in mind when reviewing storage allocations and assume that some adjustments will most likely be required in practice.
After a meaningful group of data has been collected, this partial data set should be validated, outliers should be examined, and any necessary adjustments should be made to the data collection practices.
Accurate and complete cube data can be a springboard that enables numerous operational initiatives. It is almost always worth the time invested to gather the information.
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