In shipping, cartonization is a process that evaluates items in an order to determine the number and size of each carton needed to ship the order. Software applications for managing cartonization can be standalone applications or part of a warehouse management system or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

Cartonization software is generally used in supply chain management and distribution operations. The software analyzes each item in an order by height, length, weight and width and then uses algorithms to determine the best way to pack the cartons. The analysis may also  include material and labor costs when determining how to pick, pack and ship an order in a distribution operation. An important goal of cartonization is to pack an order in the smallest cube size.

In traditional packing environments, employees choose the boxes themselves or use order-fulfillment software to select the boxes. Cartonization automates and improves traditional manual shipping methods by saving money and reducing waste. For example, using cartonization can reduce the need to fill voids in boxes, result in less damage because goods are packed and shipped more efficiently and reduce overall shipping costs because packaging weights are reduced.

Cartonization takes a number of factors into account in determining the optimal containers for a shipment, including:

  • The nature and shape of the product; for example, long, pointed items may compromise the container, or heavier items may damage smaller or lighter items.
  • The size and shape of items, which determines if the order must be split into smaller packages, which in turn can reduce shipping costs because the packages are handled by small-package carriers. Overly large items can sometimes be shipped in their own packing materials, saving packaging costs.
  • The types of items being shipped, which can determine how they are packed. For example, food items may not be shipped in containers with cleaning supplies.
This was last updated in February 2017

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