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Welcome to Worldport

We visit this gargantuan, 5.2 million-square-foot facility, which is billed as the largest automated sorting facility in the world.

Published:Caption:Photo:Tyler Lizenby/CNET
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A big part of Louisville International Airport

Built within Louisville International, Worldport accounts for about 80 percent to 85 percent of flights in and out of the airport. UPS' facility accounts for nearly all flights there during the busier night shift.

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Opened 15 years ago

The $2.4 billion facility, which opened in 2002, can now turn over 130 cargo planes daily and includes 70 aircraft docks.

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A wheeled floor

Large swaths of the metal floors have wheels and ball bearings built into them, allowing workers to haul around big containers  -- called "unit load devices," or ULDs -- filled with shipping boxes inside. 

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A look inside

When you walk around inside, you hear a loud and constant drone of machines, mixed with the whir of fans. A lot of the facility is dimly lit. Workers are all over the floor, moving around, sorting, loading and unloading packages.

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The size of 90 football fields

The facility, as big as 90 football fields, can process 115 packages and documents per second, and 416,000 items per hour. Worldport processed nearly 5 million packages in a single day, a record.

Here's a closer look at a ULD at Worldport.

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A few more big stats

Worldport's perimeter is 7.2 miles and the facility includes 33,496 conveyors.

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At inbound

The first step for packages is inbound, where workers unload shipping containers filled with boxes and start to sort them into three categories: standard parcels, small packages and irregulars.

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Ramp up

UPS delivers 20 million packages and documents every day, with 3 million of those items delivered internationally. The company says it can reach 80 percent of the world's population within 48 hours.

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Deliveries everywhere

UPS gets packages to all kinds of places. It uses gondolas in Venice and horse carriages or bikes where motorized vehicles are banned.

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The irregulars

Shipping containers hold all kinds of weirdly shaped items, including car mufflers with shipping labels slapped on them. These irregulars are placed on sled-shaped holders, like the one seen here, to send the pieces through the conveyor belts.

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The heart of Worldport

Here's a look at the main sorting matrix for standard packages. It's a multitiered maze of conveyor belts and scanners that rapidly identify boxes and automatically sort them by shipping location.

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Highly accurate, but not perfect

UPS spokespeople said Worldport's automated sorting systems are 99.99 percent accurate, with an average of 1.8 million packages and documents sorted per day. 

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Catching mistakes

To cut down on sorting errors, UPS relies on its employees, who do physical inspections and check photos of packages to get parcels to the right place.

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Sorting small packages

Here's a look at the small packages sorting area.

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'Forever bags'

Small packages and documents are pushed from rows and rows of conveyor belts onto ramps, where they're placed inside "forever bags," which are named that because they're supposed to last, you know, a long time. 

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In the bag

A closer look at small package sorting.

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10,000 workers

For its day and night shifts, Worldport employs a combined total of 10,000 UPS employees, with most of them on the night shift.

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Slide down

Just over 155 miles of belts speed packages around inside Worldport.

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Not the only one

Though Worldport is huge, it's not the only massive package sorting facility in the US. Take a look at our 2014 story on FedEx's Memphis, Tenn., facility.

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Quick inspections

Workers packing up bags and containers for delivery often spot-check items to make sure packages will make it on the right flight out.

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Readying for deliveries

At outbound, workers load up containers to prepare them for the planes.

Most packages that go through Worldport are touched by human hands just twice: when pulled off the plane, and at the end of a roughly 13-minute trip along the conveyors.

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At Louisville International

Outside the facility, lines of UPS planes sit ready to be filled with tens of thousands of packages.

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Browntails

UPS owns 236 planes, which the company nicknamed Browntails.

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A view from the cargo hold

Here's a view from inside a UPS plane, looking out at Louisville International, with its control tower in the distance.

The massive cargo hold in this plane also is lined with rollers to let workers move around containers. Once a plane is full, it's on to its next destination.

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