Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Where Is That UPS Package?

You are probably wondering why a blog post has not appeared in nearly two weeks.  Maybe you are not wondering for that matter.  In any case, I have been working on starting a 'non-profit' organization -- which I will write about in the upcoming weeks.  The tax paper work is demanding -- especially if you are not a professional.  I am back though.  Additionally, I have been pondering while on a short vacation the content of a good book called "Driving Change: The UPS Approach To Business."  I will not spoil the book, but I recommend the book for a short read.  The UPS business model has been extremely successful over many decades.

Beyond that insurmountable list of information that is required to send a package is an inconceivable system in which your package circulates to arrive at a final destination.  This blog post will be short.  I just wanted to check back in after stepping away.  I have been working on blogs -- which will be published in the next few days.  I just wanted to insert a thought to hold the reader (you) over til the next post.  A piece of mental candy if you will to think over the next time that you are frustrated with sending a package with UPS.

As with other large companies like Amazon, FedEx, USPS, etc.--the vast network of 'nodes' or 'shipping centers' is almost inconceivable.  Here is an excerpt from the book that talks about a major 'express hub' that will really throw the complex operation into perspective:

UPS, in close cooperation with Louisville's city fathers, has carved out a large piece of the airport's cargo facilities, call Worldport, for its global air express hub.  Every minute or two between 11:30 pm and 2 am at Worldport, a UPS-owned or -leased aircraft--the company uses MD-11s, 757s, 767s, 747s, Airbus A300s, even Lear jets--lands on a runway.  On a typical night, more than 100 UPS planes from all around the world converge on Worldport.  With UPS as its biggest cargo customer, Louisville ranked fourth in cargo handled at U.S. airports in 2005.
Between 11:30 pm and 5 am, UPS unloads, sorts, and reloads onto the outgoing Browntails (UPS lingo for its air fleet) somewhere between 800,000 and one million domestic and international air packages.  By dawn, the fleet will be airborne, planes weighed down once again with the stuff of world trade.  UPS calls this drill the sort, and it constitutes one of the marvels of modern commerce.

With the help of 5,000 employees working throughout the night, the sort is accomplished.  While we are sleeping, packages are moving.  Something about all 800,000 to 1 million packages being airborne by dawn just blew my mind away.  I had to see a picture of this facility.  Below is a picture that I found of 'Worldport' from 'wikipedia':

Source: Wikipedia

In the picture, the planes look small compared to the 'express hub' -- package center.  Wikipedia offers more information on the actual dimensions and total employees at the facility:

Worldport is the worldwide air hub for UPS (United Parcel Service) located at the Louisville International Airport in Louisville, Kentucky. Although UPS has had a hub at Louisville since 1980, the term was not used officially by the company until 2002, after a $1 billion, five-year expansion.[1] Previously, the project was named Hub 2000. The facility is currently the size of 5.2 million square feet (48 ha; 80 football fields) and capable of handling 115 packages a second, or 416,000 per hour.[2] With over 20,000 employees, UPS is one of the largest employers in Louisville, and in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The facility mainly handles express and international packages and letters. Worldport serves all major domestic and international hubs.

The description mentioned in the book above was before the renovation in May of 2006 and April of 2010.  The dimensions mentioned in the excerpt above taken from 'Wikipedia' are current after both of the expansions by UPS.  Can you imagine the organization/sorting optimization that had to be perfected to make the day to day operations run smoothly at Worldport?  I wonder how much money was spent in the design and renovations at Worldport (including all of the planning meetings).  Probably on the order of hundreds of thousands of 'man hours'.

Of course, according to the book, none of this infrastructure was built over night.  Many decades have been spent optimizing the business operations in order to get to the operational capability that we (as the customer) see today.  Quite amazing -- is it not?

In conclusion, the inconceivable is conceivable when built over time.  Although, the next time that you feel constrained when filling out a 'package shipping form' when sending off a package using the service UPS, think of this facility.  Additionally, the next time you are frustrated that UPS cannot find your package, think about this operation.  I am not trying to make excuses, but with a facility the size of 80 football fields, mistakes are bound to happen.  Especially, when moving around 416,000 packages an hour -- Wow.  Until next time.  

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