Select Comfort a manufacturer of air-based beds called "sleep systems" says it formerly handled overseas shipping in a logical fashion: The company first received its orders from an international distributor in Japan or Norway. Items would be loaded into an ocean container and then sent off. But this sometimes resulted in sending half-filled containers. Shipping rates for ocean containers are based on size not weight and as the Minneapolis MN-based company's overseas business grew (to about 10% of revenues currently) this system became increasingly inefficient-from both an inventory and a cost standpoint. "We were shipping air" says Darrell Olson director of distribution & logistics for Select Comfort. Part of this was due to the range of products sold by the company. Select Comfort(TM) "sleep systems" are more complex than the typical bed frame/box spring/mattress set-ups. They include electric pumps used to inflate air chambers within the air bed as well as foundations or frames and corresponding parts. Sizes are more complex too with variations such as the California King or the Eastern King. Also because of electric wiring differences and size standards in foreign countries sleep systems that are exported differ from domestic ones. Add to that accessories such as pillows and controls and there's a total of over 100 parts being shipped in sizes as small as 12" x 12" x 7" and as large 52" x 21" x 40". Olson and coworkers had to estimate how many products would fit in a container. Because of the variations in product sizes quite often they'd estimate incorrectly. "Sometimes we'd overproduce and sometimes we'd underproduce items" says Olson. "I'd say up to thirty percent of our cube space was being wasted. "In our business overproducing is just as bad as underproducing because of the carrying costs of leaving these finished goods in storage." Excess product also required additional storage space. Cartons would sometimes get damaged or dirty. And because of the range of products the company sells leftover items could hang around indefinitely. "An ocean container is 40 feet long about eight feet high and eight feet wide" he continues. "The solution we were looking for would be able to take multiple size boxes and find exactly the right number to fit in the container." Through a trade journal advertisement Olson learned about TOPS Engineering's (Plano TX) load optimization software. TOPS® MaxLoad® is a step-by-step system for producing shipping manifests and simplified diagrams to maximize space.