UPS ramps up operations of massive Southeast regional hub in Atlanta

Spanning the size of 19 football fields, a massive new UPS Southeast shipping hub in Atlanta is aimed at helping the company sort millions of packages as online shopping continues to skyrocket.

Sandy Springs-based UPS is getting about $50 million in city, county and state tax incentives for the highly-automated regional hub next to Fulton County Airport.

Since opening in August, the company has ramped up sorting operations at the “superhub” with tractor-trailers moving packages to the site and onto other UPS distribution facilities.

This Saturday marks a major expansion of operations, when UPS drivers in their brown trucks will begin delivering packages from the facility to local homes and businesses. By November, the facility will reach its full capacity, in time for the busy holiday shipping season.

UPS is still hiring to complete the workforce of about 3,000 at the new hub— the majority of them part-time workers. About 2,400 of the jobs are for part-time positions like package handlers and supervisors, while another 600 are for full-time drivers and mechanics.

“This was definitely a building driven by growth,” including growth of e-commerce, the local population and businesses, said UPS president of plant engineering Rhonda Clark.

Shoe sorters on the conveyers automatically divert packages to locations throughout the super hub. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

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The new facility will also help relieve other local UPS distribution centers during heavy periods, such as peak periods in November and December leading up to the winter holidays. In past years, UPS has struggled to keep up with the huge increase in packages from online shopping just before Christmas.

The company has invested about $400 million in the 1.2 million square-foot building on 321 acres, which includes a concrete plant, truck washing facility, diesel and compressed natural gas fueling station, as well as a MARTA bus stop — the first MARTA stop on private property. There’s also a customer center where people can drop off or pick up packages.

The facility’s automated system of conveyor belts can sort more than 100,000 packages an hour — or about 1,700 packages a minute. In the conveyor system, a package zooms through a tunnel with multiple cameras that can scan a bar code on any side of a box.

The bar code triggers the movement of pucks that line the sides of conveyor belts and bump each package in the correct direction down another conveyor — and toward the correct tractor-trailer for loading.

According to Clark, the automated system is 30 to 35 percent faster than a manual sorting system that requires workers memorize a system of zip codes.

A six sided camera tunnel can scan 10,000 labels per hour for routing the packages through the facility’s 18 miles of belts, conveyers and labels. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

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Although the UPS ground hub is next to Fulton County’s Charlie Brown Field, the hub’s operations do not involve flights at the small airport that’s home to corporate jets, private planes and flight training.The site on Sandy Creek Road off I-20 and I-285 did offer plenty of undeveloped land — and room to expand.

More than 10 percent of the packages in the entire UPS network will move through the new Southeast hub, which is the second-largest UPS ground hub in the United States, behind a Chicago facility.

The new UPS Southeast regional hub

-Located next to Fulton County Airport, known as Charlie Brown Field

-Opened in August to handle increasing numbers of packages as online shopping grows

-Begins local deliveries this Saturday

-3,000 workers, the majority of them part-time package sorters, loaders and supervisors

-This is one of several UPS facilities in metro Atlanta, including the company’s headquarters in Sandy Springs, has facilities in Roswell, Doraville, Forest Park and near Hartsfield-Jackson International. The company has more than 14,000 employees in Georgia.

Source: UPS

UPS average daily volume of packages and documents

2012: 16.3 million/day

2013: 16.9 million/day

2014: 18.0 million/day

2015: 18.3 million/day

2016: 19.1 million/day

2017: 20.0 million/day

Source: UPS