UPS opens largest UK hub

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UPS is now fully operational at its Tamworth ground hub, the company’s largest facility in the UK and second largest in Europe after the air hub in Cologne.

Following the acquisition of Lynx Express in 2005, UPS had three hubs close by in Nuneaton, all of which have now been shut, moving all operations to the new 29,000 sq m Tamworth warehouse, which Alan Williams, director for transportation UK & Ireland, says has helped to maintain quality of service.

The first ground was broken in July 2006 and the site was fully operational by the end of June this year.

The fully integrated hub and parcel delivery centre handles both domestic and international packages and features 850 conveyor belts totalling seven miles in length, 52 dimensional weighing systems, 42 inbound and 120 outbound load doors for trailers, 22 dedicated pallet doors and 302 feeder positions.

UPS has created an ergonomically designed system for sorters which means they don’t have to lift any packages, minimising the risk of injury. Instead workers slide all parcels to the corresponding conveyor. The company now plans to roll out a similar design when building other hubs in Europe.

The facility has the capacity to sort 42,000 packages per hour, which can be upped at peak times thanks to the conventional design of the conveyor system, which Williams says UPS chose over an automated system for increased operational flexibility.

Workers have to go through a rigorous 21-day training programme before even setting foot in the warehouse and are then tested on their efficiency every month to make sure they are maintaining the standard.

All packages go through a volume scanner upon entering the hub and are again scanned when leaving so they can be tracked by the customer at all stages of the journey.

The flagship facility features what Williams describes as a “unique small sort area”, designed to improve efficiency by combining all small packages and letters destined for one area into one sack. This helps to speed up the distribution process as only one item (the sack) needs to be scanned, rather than each individual item. UPS aims to send 25 per cent of all packages through this system each night.

The company has also deployed a number of technological systems designed in-house by the UPS IT team. The first is a flow count which keeps track of the volumes going to each area, as well as which trailers should be used at which time. Williams says the efficiency of the hub “lives or dies by this as there must be a balanced flow”.

A control system has also been installed, which enables staff to access all 850 conveyors from one central point, in addition to data about the operator. This is the first time the system has been used and again UPS plans to roll it out in any future hubs around Europe.

Away from the warehouse up in the control centre, all trailers are wirelessly assigned their position via staff in the Shiftcom and Reassimilation areas, which are designed to balance the workload.

Williams says: “Everything is controlled by this system. We couldn’t run the hub without it. It makes or breaks the operation.”

UPS invested $105 million (£70 million) in the site, its largest ever capital investment in the UK, including acquisitions and has plans to grow further in the region. Williams says: “The sales force has aggressive targets to grow the business. When you invest $105 million you want to see a return on investment.”

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