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What's Behind Getting That Package Delivered By Christmas: NPR



A package of workers at a FexEx warehouse in Chicago.

David Schaper / NPR


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David Schaper / NPR

A package of workers at a FexEx warehouse in Chicago.

David Schaper / NPR

Times rally for procurement packages delivered in time for Christmas, and companies like FedEx, UPS, Postal Service and even Amazon are feeling stress.

Online spending is expected to increase by 15 percent in last year's record During the holiday season, according to Adobe Analytics.

Long before you click "buy" and type that shipping address, most e-retailers have delayed your order.

at a nearby warehouse or center of fulfillment, and can be delivered within a few hours.

But most gifts come farther and get them in time to be under the Christmas morning tree involving a complicated system under more pressure than during this holiday season .

The Super Hub

When the order passes, the item goes by truck and possibly by airplane, too, at a shipping hub, such as the huge new UPS Super Hub on "We are about the size of 19 football fields, 1.2 million square feet," says UPS spokeswoman Kim Krebs, who adds not only the size that makes this extra hub.

"This is the latest in technology operation, powered by a lot of great data," says Krebs. "We're being processed through it around 100,000 packages of one hour, which works at about 1,700 in one minute."

Packages are zipping through the facility at 18 miles of conveyer belts, designed to handle all types of shapes and sizes.

"If you look at how they go down and look at the actual belts themselves, you'll see that there are different textures, different sizes and different speed, "which ultimately moves packages in a single line, says Krebs.

Smart labels in packages are scanned by six-sided scanners, so everywhere in the package the label is placed, it can be read. That information tells the system where each package should be taught, in order to move it to the right place to be loaded back into a truck going to the last destination of the package.

The UPS estimates it will deliver 800 million packages between Thanksgiving and Christmas, from the 762 million packages during the same holiday season last year.

And company officials have said that the new super hub and billions of other facility upgrades and technological improvements should help prevent the repetition of problems last year.

Online shopping hitting record highs

The explosion in online holiday shopping is not just pressing UPS but other shippers, too never before.

Data from Adobe Analytics shows spending this year's holiday season that has raised $ 80 billion dollars and may raise $ 125 billion before the end of the period.

The largest load will be delivered thr ough mail, because the U.S. Postal Service will deliver 900 million packages between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, and among the 15 billion other pieces of mail. Last week before Christmas was the lowest for the Post Office, while carriers delivered some three billion mails.

Throughout the industry, shippers and retailers invested in their logistics networks, pouring billions into building new warehouses and distributing facilities, transporting vehicles and technological improvements to try to become better delivery of packages in shorter periods of time.

And even with higher automation, the package delivery is still very difficult to do. UPS has received 100,000 extra workers to handle the holiday crush; Amazon continuously adds substantial number of contracts and full and part-time employees, and FedEx receives 55,000 seasonal workers to deliver double standard 14 million packages a day.

The science behind moving all the boxes

line up with unloading at the FedEx Express distribution center on Goose Island near downtown Chicago.

David Schaper / NPR


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Trucks are aligned with unloading at the FedEx Express distribution center on Goose Island near downtown Chicago.

David Schaper / NPR

A few hours before the dawn at the FedEx Express distribution center on Goose Island near downtown Chicago, there was a continuous stream of semi-trucks backed on craft steams.

Each is full of four or five giant metal containers. "We are referring them as cans, really," says Michael Murphy, senior operations manager for this FedEx facility. He teaches that many cans have rounded or curved sides at the top of one side.

"They are really shaped to put in the abdomen of an aircraft," he said.

These cans came from FedEx planes at the O & # 39; Hare airport, and now, workers are storing their contents – 300 to 600 different packages size from each tin – and placed in conveyer belts to move them through the facility. Murphy said that, along the way, workers scan the packages with a handheld scanner.

"Many barcodes are encoded with specific information that will help us determine what trucks and what route and what order in the order they were given," he said. . "They also put a small label on it that helps our couriers down here filling the trucks knowing what part of the belt is going to, what number of trucks goes to, and what position it is load on truck. "

Scans are also used to update customers who can track their packages throughout the delivery process.

Murphy said that e-commerce boom has completely changed business dynamics over the last 10 years, not just because customers require more things online, but this is also the kind of the things they delivered.

"It's a rug you may need for the front room, this is the new 70-inch TV," she says. "I just saw a frame of bed coming down here a few minutes ago, so it's something we did not see 10 years ago."

Packages move to a final conveyer belt between two sets of boxy delivery vans and trucks backed up in the belt. Couriers will take packages that are labeled for their routes and load them, based on size and destination, in order to utilize the optimal use of truck space and courier times.

When loaded with 150 trucks, they launch almost everything simultaneously, but this is not a complete chaos. It's more like a ballet than a roller derby.

"It's engineered," Murphy says. "It's not a big circus, it's very well-organized and almost calm, the way they launch."

Engineers also recommend delivery routes to maintain trucks.

"Having a truck that sits in traffic is not very effective and is not good for business," Murphy says. "One great thing is using technology to drive us around the traffic [jams] and to move our operations out of the top of the traffic."

But there is no denying that all delivery vans from FedEx, UPS, Amazon and other delivery services are crowded with traffic on their own and straining an infrastructure path that is not really designed for the vast majority of commerce .

A system that works well, despite the numbers

The supply chain itself is not no kinks, the packages are still gone, come late or are left in the wrong address . And, moreover, theft is a problem. It is estimated that millions of packages have been stolen by doors and porches in front.

Loading trucks at the FedEx Express distribution center at Goose Island near downtown Chicago.

David Schaper / NPR


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David Schaper / NPR

Loading trucks at the FedEx Express distribution center at Goose Island near downtown Chicago.

David Schaper / NPR

But experts say e-commerce delivery systems work well, especially considering how many packages were delivered at this time of year and how much increase in the past decades.

"One of the things that still makes me wonder about the accuracy and the speed and control of the quality built and in this delivery system," said Anne Goodchild, founder of the Transportation Supply Chain and Logistic Center at University of Washington in Seattle. "It's so beautiful."

But he mentioned that it was not cheap, even for retailers who pledged free shipping. And he found that there was growing demand from customers to send their goods faster.

"They continue under extreme pressure to effectively spend, do it wisely and make it good," he said.

So each package delivered today, whether it's timely or not, becomes a data point for e-retailers and their delivery partners as they try to improve the services on delivery for holiday next year.


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