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10 Ways to Achieve E-Commerce Distribution Success, Part 8 of 10 - Pick-to-Shipping-Container

By Ian Hobkirk | 10/05/2016 | 5:16 AM

10 Ways to Achieve E-Commerce Distribution Success, Part 8 of 10 – Pick-to-Shipping-Container

September 28th, 2016

Under increasing pressure to work faster, better, and smarter in today’s omni-channel and e-commerce business environment, companies need help getting their distribution operations up to speed with customer demands and expectations. To help, Commonwealth Supply Chain Advisors has identified 10 key tactics that successful companies are employing in order to make a graceful transition to higher levels of e-commerce in the distribution center.

In Parts 1 through 4 of this ten-part series, I hit on the four basic tactics: Create a Forward Pick Area, Setup Effective Replenishment, Determine Overall Pick Strategy and Determine the Optimal Pick Methodology. Parts 5 through 7 focused on the Intermediate Tactics: Practice Real-Time Warehousing, Optimize Packing, and Manage Parcel Shipments Effectively; with this blog, part 8, we embark on the first of the three Advanced Tactics: Pick-to-Shipping Container.




As discussed in Tactic #6 (Part VI – Optimize Packing), picking to the shipping container can greatly reduce handling requirements in the packing area. In order to execute on a strategy like this, there are several pre-requisites:

  1. Accurate product dimensions and weight must exist
  2. Scan-verification at time of picking must take place
  3. A cartonization system must be used to calculate the correct size shipping container
  4. A capable WMS system must be in use


Product Dimensions

For companies with a large number of SKUs available for e-commerce orders, capturing the measurements of each item can seem like a daunting task. However, automatic cubing devices can greatly speed this process. An automatic cubing device uses ultrasonic technology to ascertain the dimensions of an item. An operator places the item on the cubing device, presses a button, and within seconds, the length, width, height, and weight of the item are captured.  A SKU number is entered (or scanned from a bar-code), and the information is recorded in a database.

Image Source: Cubiscan


Using this technology can be a fast and accurate way to capture cubic dimensions of items. A variety of such devices are available, so companies should choose carefully. Minimum and maximum product size plays a role in device selection, as does the frequency of irregular parts (items that are not shaped like a rectangle). Cubing devices can usually be purchased or rented for short term engagements.


In high-inventory-turn environments, many companies find that an effective approach to cubing is to capture the cube of all inbound product at receipt, when it must be handled anyway. Then, after the bulk of the SKUs have been cubed, the remaining items are cubed as needed by selecting them from their bin locations.


Even with cubing technology, the effort is still very labor-intense, as ultimately, each SKU in the DC must be handled. In view of this, careful planning should go into the effort to ensure that all of the necessary data is collected. It is vital to distinguish between different pack sizes of the same item. For example, an item may come in a pack size of three. It is important to know if the unit of sale in this case is one or three. If the saleable unit is at the “each” level, then the box must be opened and the individual unit cubed. If the unit is sold in multiple pack sizes, it can be helpful to capture each individual pack size separately. In some cases, vendors may be able to provide data on product dimensions, but the same care must be exercised to ensure that the pack-size issues are communicated properly.


Although time-consuming, gathering cube data can be extremely useful for a number of distribution initiatives, including:


  • Picking to the shipping container
  • Slotting
  • System-directed put-away
  • Check-weighing
  • Pre-manifesting


Related Content: Planning a Warehouse Layout with Imperfect Data


In the next installment of this ten-part blog series we’ll discuss the second of the three Advanced Tactics: Employ Goods-to-Picker Systems.





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About Ian Hobkirk

Ian Hobkirk

Ian Hobkirk is the founder and Managing Director of Commonwealth Supply Chain Advisors. Over his 20-year career, he has helped hundreds of companies reduce their distribution labor costs, improve space utilization, and meet their customer service objectives. He has formed supply chain consulting organizations for two different systems integration firms, and managed the supply chain execution practice at The AberdeenGroup, a leading technology analyst firm.


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