Overview of our Packaging Engine
Posted by Doug Sherman (Import), Last modified by Doug Sherman on 04 Feb 16 01:48 PM

Our intelligent Packaging Engine is the heart of our shipping calculation software, and both its most unique and most useful component.   Carts that offer calculated rates all use the carrier rate "API"s to procure rates. But the carrier APIs expect package data, not item data.  Your cart, then, must somehow convert the data on the items in the cart to the package data the carriers require. AuctionInc was among the first ecommerce businesses to develop any packaging intelligence, and we believe that our capabilites in this area continue to far exceed the vast majority, if not all, ecommerce products available, including shipping calculators, carts, and rate APIs.  If the packages created by the cart are not reasonably accurate, matching your own packing behavior, then the carrier rates will not be accurate, especially when there are multiple items in the cart. Most carts still can do no more than generically accumulate an item weight total, at best.  Our packaging engine is able to take into account a variety of carrier, item and account configuration data to determine accurately in a broad range of situations the most likely packaging scenerio for each service you are rating. Determining an accurate number of packages required for the selected service, one that has the best probability of actually matching your "real-life" shipping decisions, is the single most critical factor in determining an accurate shipping rate.

After package count, package weight is the most critical factor in determining ship rate. Our system allows sellers to either package up the maximum weight permissible per service, or to establish a maximum weight for each, configured per service, under the carrier maximum.  Most of our products also support the flexible configuration of package materials weight, in an open-ended algorithm setting additional weight to add for any given item weight range. Together these configuration factors result in the capability to determine accurate package weights in a very wide range of business settings.

Item dimensions are optional in our system for most of our products, but if used, adds an additional element that both offers substantially more information to determine accurate rates and also substantially more complexity in the determination.  Our engine tracks total item volume, a methodology that bypasses the complexity of determing the orientiation of the individual items in the box, and assumes that the shipper will attempt to be as efficient as possible in utilizing the available space in their packaging.  Carrier dimensional service limits are primarily based on calculations, such as length + girth, that result in a range of possible volumes.  Our engine compares the item dimensions to either the seller-configured maximum box dimensions, or the service maximum possible volume, minus a "loss factor" to account for some unused space, that can be generated given the largest individual item dimension among the items in the cart/shipment.

Specifically (and if the seller has not configured lesser box dimensions), for a given service length + girth limit, our engine will determine the largest volume possible (given any length and equal width/height). Also, for this volume, it derives the maximum possible dimension (length), given equal width/height.  If the largest item dimension in the cart/shipment does not exceed the Maximum Length figure below, we can then use the maximum service volume (in cubic inches) indicated in the table below. If any item dimension exceeds the Maximum Length, a different maximum volume figure is derived based on this largest item dimension (and equal width/height); as the maximum item dimension increases, the resulting available maximum volume will decrease.

Service Length + Girth Initial Max Volume Maximum Length Loss Factor Final Max Volume
36 * 1730 12 10% 1550
79 4320 30 10% 3900
108 11,500 36 15% 9800
130 19,400 44 15% 16,500
165 40,500 45 15% 34,500


* this figure, used only for USP First Class International, is the sum of length + width + height

Here are the specific steps our packaging engine utilizes, uniquely for each carrier service:

  • If any individual item in the cart/shipment exceeds the carrier service weight or (if dimensions are used) maximum service dimension limit, eliminate the service. (For USPS international destinations, use AuctionInc's local database of weight/max length limits per country/service).
  • Identify the item with the maximum weight value in cart/shipment;
  • Add any configured package material weight for appropriate item weight range to determine initial total package weight.
  • If this total package weight does not exceed the seller-configured maximum service weight, if exists, add to package; else package the item and split to the next package.
  • If dimensions are available, calculate the current volume of the package.
  • If there are additional items in cart/shipment, sort the items from lightest to heaviest.
  • While neither the service weight or (if dimensions) volume limit and dimensional tests are exceeded:
    • Add the item weight of the lightest remaining item to the total item weight, and recalculate the appropriate pack materials weight, if configured, for this new total item weight, determining a new total package weight.
    • If dimensions are available, calculate the new total item volume of the package.
    • Determine if total item volume now exceeds maximum volume for this service. (based either on a) seller-configured dimensions, b) the figure in the table above, for the appropriate length + girth carrier maximum for the service, or c) on a unique volume dervived from an item dimension which exceeds the maximum length in the table above).
    • If configured seller maximum box dimensions exist, test if any of the sorted dimensions of the item being added exceed the sorted maximum dimensions of the box.
    • Continue until we run out of items.
  • If weight, dimension, or volume limits are exceeded in the above tests, start a new package with the heaviest of the remaining items and repeat above logic.

Finally, after the number of packages has been determined for each carrier service being rated, our packaging engine then compares the package count for each service, and applies our "kick-out" business rule logic to eliminate services that, practically speaking, have resulted in too many packages compared to other available services. This logic protects you, as the shipper, from your customer selecting a carrier service that, although rated, would require you to package the items in the shipment into too many packages when other services are also available that require substantially less packages. This logic is applied regardless of comparative ship rates; in the vast majority of cases, the ship rate of those services that require many more packages will also be substantially higher than services that require less. Specifically:

  • If the service results in 2 or less packages, always include it.
  • Between 3 and 10 packages, kick out any service that requires 75% or more packages than another available service.
  • Between 10 and 35 packages, kick out the service unless the package count is within 25% of another available service.
  • If the service results in 35 or more packages, always kick out; this is our maximum calculated package limit for all services.

The end result of our Packaging Engine logic is the presentation to your customers of shipping rates for your supported carrier services that, given the high complexity of packaging variables and the inherent limitations of the ecommerce process, has the highest probablility possible of matching the rates you will actually pay to your carrier for any given shipment.

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