— Around 8 a.m. at a cavernous warehouse outside
Pittsburgh recently, about four dozen delivery drivers
for United Parcel Service got their first look at the
scheduled drop-offs for the day.
for roughly 9-hour shifts with anywhere from 50 to 150
stops, it could have been — and, until recently, was
— a daunting start, as drivers had to calculate how
best to juggle the day’s load while negotiating
Pittsburgh-area traffic snarls such as bridges, tunnels
and sudden road closures.
as the drivers did their stretches and huddled for a
morning pep talk, they stopped to consult a computer
screen. It told them precisely what route to take to
make each delivery and what time they would get there.
has been expanding its use of the technology that it
hopes could save 100 million miles a year from the
shipping company’s treks around America’s cities and
neighborhoods. Big shippers like UPS and FedEx Ground
have been embracing tracking data as a way to cope with
and grow with the prolonged boom in online shopping,
even as they work to give customers more specific
options for home delivery.
technology has evolved, so has what we scan," said
Kevin Koken, vice president of the FedEx Ground’s
eastern region, which covers the New England and
Mid-Atlantic areas. He noted that FedEx developed the
first bar code used for shipping purposes in 1985.
sales have grown at a faster rate than those from
brick-and-mortar stores, and sales this November and
December are expected to follow that trend, according to
the National Retail Federation. The Washington, D.C.,
trade group expects online sales to rise between 6 and 8
percent to as much as $105 billion, compared with retail
stores growth of 3.7 percent to $630.5 billion.
shift hasn’t always gone smoothly for delivery
companies — just two years ago, stories about delayed
Christmas deliveries grabbed headlines. This year, FedEx
expects a record 317 million shipments between Black
Friday and Christmas Eve across its global network, a
12.4 percent increase in seasonal volume. UPS is
forecasting a Thanksgiving through December delivery
volume of more than 630 million packages, up more than
10 percent from 2014.
THE HUMAN TOUCH
ground division of Memphis-based FedEx Corp. has
increased levels of automation at some of its 31 hub
facilities across the U.S. and Canada.
key feature that management is excited about is a system
that sends packages by conveyor belt through a six-sided
"scanning tunnel" that tracks everything from
package dimensions to weight and makes sorting decisions
in about half a second.
package then is directed using automatic sorters to its
appropriate destination in the hub, where workers then
load it onto a FedEx van for delivery. The goal is to
minimize the number of times a human touches a package,
time you touch a package, you introduce the possibility
of an error," he said. "A computer in that
same situation makes the right decision almost every
Ground is now constructing a new distribution facility
in suburban Pittsburgh set to open next summer. The
300,000-square-foot facility — which will be the
company’s sixth facility, including its headquarters,
in the Pittsburgh area — was needed to meet an
explosion in demand from nearby growing area, Koken
said. The facility will process about 15,000 packages an
clearly a strategic site choice: The new facility will
sit directly across Interstate 79 from the UPS facility,
which is entering its third holiday season in operation
after moving there.
a recent tour of the UPS facility along Interstate 79,
Center Manager Jason Rezak said the bigger building
means workers can process about 40 percent more packages
than at the old place.
morning at around 3:30 a.m., packages are carried from
tractor-trailers and put onto conveyor belts along a
network of massive metal chutes that feed two main belt
low-hanging bright lights, pre-load workers pick
packages off the central belt lines and use bar codes to
tell them which of about four dozen delivery trucks to
load the goods into. On that particular morning, the
center handled roughly 15,600 packages, said Walt DeMase,
a pre-loading supervisor.
new routing technology for delivery trucks, called
Orion, will be used on 70 percent of the company’s
U.S. routes this holiday season, up from 45 percent last
year at this time. For each 120-stop route, the
algorithm analyzes more than 200,000 options in
selecting the most efficient route, the company said.
year, drivers with the technology showed a reduction of
6 to 8 miles per route driven, resulting in lower fuel
use and related vehicle emissions, said UPS spokeswoman
Susan Rosenburg. Once rolled out completely, UPS expects
drivers to shave off 100 million miles. UPS doesn’t
disclose the total number of miles its trucks drive a
a former delivery driver, remembers when he had to use
paper maps to figure out routes. After being assigned
the same delivery area on most days, drivers became
"creatures of habit," he said.
shows us a better way of doing that," DeMase said.