HODGKINS, Ill. — Not counting Santa’s workshop, or maybe Macy’s on Christmas Eve, it would be tough to find a busier place during the holidays than UPS’s mammoth package-processing plant outside Chicago. If the slowing economy has put a chill on holiday shopping, no such evidence was visible at the frenzied facility Tuesday on “Peak Day,” the busiest shipping day of the year.
Nearly 11,000 workers scrambled against an unmissable deadline, processing more than 1.7 million packages and documents. Worldwide, United Parcel Service estimated it would ship 19 million packages this past Tuesday as momentum from the online shopping boom carries it and its competitors to another record-breaking holiday season.
“It’s really intense. Everything is on the go, on the go,” said Brandon Ashana, 20, a “jam-breaker” assigned to help prevent parcels from getting mashed as they speed through the dizzying 65-mile network of conveyor belts.
A fleet of 3,800 trucks ferried parcels in and out of the plant, while next to snowy railway tracks 200 yards away, workers loaded one of a dozen trains full of UPS goods that were due to depart by day’s end.
One in every 10 of the 325 million packages that UPS anticipates delivering worldwide between Thanksgiving and Christmas will come through this little suburb, which Atlanta-based UPS chose as its main shipping point because of Chicago’s transportation hub and large labor pool.
The facility – the world’s biggest and busiest package distribution facility, according to UPS – is as long as three aircraft carriers and twice as wide.
The explosive growth in Internet shopping may be slowing. Commercial shipping leaders UPS and FedEx warned last week that revenues for the holiday period will not be as great as predicted because of public uneasiness with a slipping economy.
But nearly 45 million Americans are expected to do holiday shopping online this year.
FedEx spokeswoman said the overnight delivery company shipped 6.5 million packages on Monday, its busiest day, up 5 percent from last year’s holiday peak. The Postal Service estimates it will handle 191 million packages during the holidays, also a 5 percent increase from 1999.
UPS handles more than half of all online purchases, and the fate of some e-retailers may ride on whether the company delivers their Christmas orders on time.
After some Christmas Day disappointments in 1999 that resulted from bad planning by dot-coms, the shipping giant spent considerable time coaching them to improve coordination this year. UPS also continues to upgrade the heavily computerized plant, where conveyor belts speed at up to 500 feet per second, 80,000 sensors keep track of them, and dozens of employees man computer banks in a room that looks like Mission Control.
With three days to go and overtime pay opportunities flowing, employees were in a holiday mood despite the din of conveyor belt rollers, clanging warning bells and motorized carts.
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Postal Service: http://www.usps.com