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UPS starts world's premiere cross-docking operation.

Every aspect of the new Chicago Area Consolidation Hub (CACH) of UPS has big time and world class written on it.

At 1.9 million sq ft, this is the world's largest package sorting facility. That also makes it the premiere cross-docking operation anywhere, and a prototype for many warehouses of the future.

When CACH hits its stride in 1997, 2.0 million packages will pass through every day. A trailer load of packages will arrive at or depart from the facility every 16 seconds.

Even during these early startup days, it only takes 15 minutes for a package to travel an average distance of 1 mile on a series of conveyors from one of 122 receiving doors to any of 1,050 shipping doors. In total, there are 30.7 miles of conveyors and 1,951 diverters in the facility.

Total cost of CACH was $315 million. Half of that went to the materials handling and information handling systems.

About the only component that isn't big in size certainly is in importance. A 1 sq in. two-dimensional bar code on every package will provide all of the information needed to sort packages at 400 ft/min. This is the first time that a 2-D bar code will be used to sort such large volumes of packages-150,000 an hour by 1997.

As CACH works through its startup phase, daily throughput is considerably less than capacity, says Mark Casseday, UPS project engineer.

By the end of this year, throughput is expected to hit 60,000 packages an hour and then double during 1997. By then, most every ground transport package carried by UPS in this country will pass through the facility on its way to 2,000 regional UPS locations.

Big but simple

Despite its size and the number of components that make it work, CACH operates on a relatively simple scheme, explains project engineer Mark Casseday.

From receiving to shipping, there are only three sortation areas, one of which sorts packages to more than 25 lanes and one that sorts to only two lanes.

Simplicity, however, does not mean packages are handled in bulk-quite the opposite. Each package is sorted and directed individually.

"Our control system tracks each package so precisely that we know to within a few inches exactly where each package is in the system," says Henri Bonnet, vice president of automation for UPS.

That control starts when trailer loads of packages arrive at CACH. While some are directed immediately to receiving docks, others are staged in an adjacent yard with room for 4,000 trailers.

How cross-docking works

At the receiving dock, workers wear a voice system headset. They hand unload each package, reading the zip code into the headset at the same time.

"From this point forward," says Bonnet, "all packages are routed without any other human intervention."

As the package travels along a 45-ft powered takeaway conveyor, the zip code data is automatically passed to a PC which assigns a shipping dock door destination to the package. The PC then passes the zip code onto a label printer dedicated to each dock door.

The printer generates a 1 sq in. 2-D bar code that was developed by UPS to sort packages at high speed. In fact, MaxiCode, as it is known, is the only 2-D bar code that can be scanned on packages traveling on conveyors at 500 ft/min. For more than a year, UPS has been successfully using MaxiCode to sort about 150,000 packages a day at its Grand Rapids, Mich., hub.

Although MaxiCode can carry up to 100 characters of sortation-critical information, CACH currently requires only the zip code to direct packages through its entire system.

At the end of the receiving dock takeaway conveyor, the label is applied automatically as the package passes under the printer. Immediately afterward, the takeaway conveyor merges its packages with those from two other dock doors.

Within seconds, an overhead scanner (one for each of the 43 merged receiving lanes) reads each package's bar code. This data is sent to the bank of programmable controllers that directs the first sortation to 25 conveyor lanes.

All small packages (about 30% of the total) are sorted up to a 400,000 sq ft mezzanine above the 1.5 million sq ft ground floor. Packages are consolidated by city in bags with a maximum size no bigger than a standard UPS package.

These are then sent downstairs and re-integrated with the system just prior to the first sort point. From the point forward, these bags of packages are sorted just like any other package at the hub.

The secondary sort, which feeds only two lanes, is activated when 42 scanners read bar codes on packages. The final sort is to 21 lanes with another 42 overhead scanners reading bar codes on each package as it passes by.

Conveyors feed packages directly from the system into trailers waiting at the shipping docks. When a packed trailer is released, it leaves CACH for its regional destination.

"Based on startup so far, we should be fully operational by the end of 1996," says Casseday.
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Article Details
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Author:Forger, Gary
Publication:Modern Materials Handling
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Nov 1, 1995
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