advanced shipping/packaging solution
March 22, 2012 7:36 AM   Subscribe

I am working on a school project where I need to figure out if a specific combination of different shaped items can be successfully packed into a known box size. One Example: I am shipping a small statue, a toaster box, and coffe cup into a 20x20" box. (I can measure the individual items) I will have many different items or combinations of items. I need to know if there is a calculator or computer program I can use to know if selected items will fit in my shipment box. Anyone know how to be pursue this? THanks!
posted by kmurray24 to Computers & Internet (6 answers total)
Excel might be able to do this using Solver.
posted by amarynth at 7:53 AM on March 22, 2012

If you do a Ctrl-F for "Rectangle Packing Tool" in this page, that might work for a two-dimensional solution. Optimized packing is actually a pretty complicated mathematical problem.
posted by XMLicious at 8:10 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd start by making sure the total volume of the items is not greater than the volume of the box. It could be a simple "No, they cannot fit." Also be sure that none of the items exceed the dimensions of the box (while not forgetting why a 5-foot fishing-pole can fit rigidly in a 4x3 box). In short, there are 2 easy outs that should be eliminated first and should take little-enough time to do so.

Other than that, I would just start placing the items in the box, virtually speaking, and describing the remaining volumes-- start with a large object, and then fill any crevices with small objects, and then go with another large object. Stack any regular objects if possible, but if keeping them unstacked works better, do that.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:18 AM on March 22, 2012

I don't quite understand what you are trying to do with your project if you can use an off-the-shelf package for this part of the problem.

As XMLisious says, packing is a known "hard" math problem without a simple algorithm if you want to find the size of the very smallest container into which odd shaped items (even spheres) will fit. However, you can get a "good" but not necessarily optimal solution with some simple rules of thumb, particularly if you are working with a few fixed box sizes.
posted by Idcoytco at 11:48 AM on March 22, 2012

Barring some fancy-pants 3-D model builder, couldn't you just do this with graph paper? With a 2D graph of each side of the box? Because it doesn't seem weight factors into the equation.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 11:58 AM on March 22, 2012

Thanks everyone for the help. I have not found a solution for this yet and will keep looking.
posted by kmurray24 at 10:10 AM on August 9, 2012

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