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5 things that happen to your package in transit

You'll never guess some of the efficiency tricks UPS uses to get your shipments where they need to go.

Planes, trains and trucks are among UPS's transportation modes, but do you know some of the smart, time-saving processes UPS uses to ship efficiently?

As you can imagine, transporting a package from one side of the globe to the other requires an efficient operation. An example: shipping from Tulsa, Okla., to Hong Kong. This could involve three modes of transport – road, air and rail – and a highly organized sorting process.

Now, instead of considering one package in transit, let's think about shipping upward of 14 million packages daily – shipping in all directions with varying delivery time frames. The logistical magnitude is mind-boggling.

It all starts with the pickup and ends with a trusty UPS driver in a package car pulling up to your business or driveway. But we bet you didn't know these five key processes that happen in between to make it all work.

1. A ground package has about nine "touch points" – meaning physical handling – during the delivery process. Most of these are in the loading and sorting phases.

2. When it comes to transport, UPS is synonymous with planes, trucks and package cars. Yet "there are some packages that go by rail," says Larry Gittleman, a UPS industrial engineering manager. "At night, after a sort, packages may be put on a train." An advantage of rail: It falls in line with UPS's commitment to sustainability, reducing our carbon footprint. So it really is a matter of planes, trains and automobiles – plus trucks and ocean vessels.

3. Packages designated for air travel typically go to one of six airports. They are: Rockford, Ill.; Philadelphia; Ontario, Calif.; Dallas; Des Moines, Iowa; or Louisville, Ky., the home of UPS Worldport®. "From here, they go through a finer sort before being transported to their final destination," Gittleman says.

4. Shipment status matters. Accurate tracking is one of the most important aspects of shipping. How do you get those status updates? A special code with a tracking number is automatically scanned at each stage of transportation or sorting, which allows UPS – and you – to track any package in the system. "The code acts like a GPS for your package," Gittleman says.

Packages may also be scanned by a "dim-weight" machine, which measures both package dimensions and weight. This information is then automatically compared with the information provided by the shipper. Read more about dimensional weight in this article, "Avoid billing corrections at the outset."

5. Sorting matters at the local UPS hub, too. Packages unloaded from a UPS truck typically undergo two or three sorting phases, the first splitting packages in eight to 10 directions – taking into account their geographic destination and the type of service requested. "Each sorting phase gets finer, all the way down to the packages' final destinations," Gittleman says.

Your turn!

Do you have efficiency techniques at your business that save you time? Share your thoughts in our comment section.

Do you like this kind of article? Rate it! Have your own creative trick that makes all the difference? Share it by selecting "Add Comment" below this article.

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Reader Comments

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Kenny November 12, 2015
Is one reason why packages might go by train because they can travel during the night, while OTR trucks have curfews?
Compass Guy October 28, 2015
Peter, I agree it's sometimes hard to explain why packages take a certain path to their destinations. But in your case, I suspect your package went to our largest air hub in Louisville, Ky., cleared customs there and was flown to Calgary from our Worldport facility. So, lots of UPS packages are routed through Kentucky.
Peter October 27, 2015
This doesn't explain why my package, which originated in Kansas, was sent to Kentucky, when it's final destination is Calgary, Alberta. There is no way this is efficient.
Chris May 1, 2015
And don't forget to place the "we tried to deliver a package but didn't ring the bell" note on your door.
Chris August 7, 2014
You forgot the 6th step, carefully driving over each package with the delivery truck before drop off.
Matt July 19, 2014
One step UPS can take to make their customer service better is allow packages to be picked up by the customer on a Saturday, even if it is not a Saturday deliverable item.
Anonymous January 20, 2013
Thank you. I have a new mandolin on its way from Virginia to Oregon and was just curious how its handled. This article helped.