Flexport is attempting to transform the container stuffing process

Flexport, the recent recipient of the world’s largest trade technology funding round has recently begun making moves to optimise the process of stuffing containers and storing packages in warehouses.

In a patent filing published in October 2019 for a “Cargo Management System”, the silicon valley based freight forwarder outlined plans for a system that automatically groups packages based on their physical characteristics and builds human-friendly container stuffing plans for warehouse workers.

Errors occur when human warehouse workers are forced to guess package dimensions, weights, storage, or shipping instructions on packages. Those errors can have a knock-on impact on the rest of the supply chain, causing costly slow-downs or cancellations. Equally though, if human warehouse managers or operators carefully check package characteristics as they enter a facility, the supply chain runs more slowly and volume capability is limited. To solve this, the patent offers a solution to improve the tracking, grouping, and processing of packages through a warehouse in an intuitive and human friendly manner.

The cloud-based platform requires users to input package size and weight measurements on arrival at a management facility or warehouse. Upon submission, packages are automatically compared to what is already being stored in the facility and sorted into groups based on their physical characteristics. Each group is assigned a human-friendly symbol to make it easy for warehouse workers to identify package types. Packages are labelled using the human friendly symbol, and a machine readable code (like a QR code or barcode).

Packages are labelled with both human and machine friendly symbols.

The designated groups of packages can be used to optimised storage space in the warehouse or facility. When packages are ready to be stuffed into a container, the system generates a “build plan” that specifies how they should be packed into the container. The system uses the human friendly symbols in the build plan, to help whoever is stuffing the container to quickly identify where packages or package groups should be placed in the box.

The build plan is a quick and easy way for warehouse workers to identify how best to stuff a container.

Because the system is cloud-based, the build plan can be distributed to third parties including delivery drivers or a final customer who is responsible for unpacking the container at the delivery point. Plans can also be stored, modified, and optimised to continuously improve the container stuffing process at warehouses and facilities around the world.

In a sector that is still heavily dependent on manual human labour, this is an incredibly simple way to improve the human-machine interface while at the same time making it possible to utilise data to optimise processes.

This innovation sits well with Flexport’s broad strategy of building the operating system for global trade. This system could be used anywhere, in any warehouse or container depot worldwide. In time, elephants and cowboy hats may become the default way that human warehouse workers and stevedores learn to interpret and enact complex packing instructions from machines.