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At FedEx's Memphis hub, sorting 1.5 million packages (pictures)

Every night, the shipping giant processes 1.5 million packages through its World Hub. CNET Road Trip 2014 stayed up late to see how it all works.

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Daniel Terdiman
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1 of 25 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Matrix flood

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Every night, at its World Hub here, FedEx sorts up to 1.5 million packages that come in from all over the glove. The packages arrive on about 140 planes and are sorted, and then sent on to their final destinations.

As part of CNET Road Trip 2014, I traveled to the World Hub to see just how the shipping giant handles the literal flood of packages.

Click here for my full story on the World Hub.

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MD-11

Every night, FedEx sends 140 planes to Memphis, and then sends 140 planes back out. Every one of the 1.5 million packages that comes through the World Hub will be sent back out toward its final destination.

FedEx operates numerous types of planes, including this McDonnell Douglas MD-11. It also flies Boeing 777s, 767s, and 757s; Airbus 300s and 310s; and McDonnell Douglas MD-10s.

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Unloading MD11

A FedEx crew works feverishly in the rain to unload thousands of packages from an MD-11.

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Containers outside plane

Workers check out containers full of thousands of packages that have just been unloaded from a FedEx MD-11 at its Memphis World Hub.

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Input

After packages are unloaded from planes at FedEx's Memphis World Hub, they're brought to one of nine Input areas: five for domestic packages and four that handle international, heavyweight, and dangerous-goods packages.

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Flooding the Matrix

One container's worth of packages -- about 235 -- floods into the Matrix. From there, FedEx workers take them and send them out on conveyors, where they're scanned and sorted for placement on planes that will take them to their final destination.


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Matrix

Workers at the Matrix process thousands of packages an hour.

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Packages going through scanner

After going through the Matrix, packages pass through a scanner, which reads their label -- complete with a bar code -- and sends them on their way to be sorted onto the plane that will take them to their eventual destination.

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Down at the belts

A look down at row after row of conveyor belts moving packages through FedEx's World Hub in Memphis, Tenn.

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Pushed to diverter

A package is pushed off a conveyor belt at a diverter, which sends the parcel on its way toward its eventual destination.

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777

A Boeing 777 being loaded with packages on the ramp at FedEx's Memphis World Hub at night.

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Airplanes on map

A computer monitor in FedEx's Hub Operations Command Center shows all the company's planes heading toward Memphis.

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Monitoring the hub

Workers monitor cameras located throughout the World Hub to make sure the sort is going smoothly.

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GOC board

At FedEx's Global Operations Center, the company can see precisely where any of its planes are at any time. This board displays the status of dozens of flights being operated by the company over a number of days.

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SPSS working the Matrix

A worker at FedEx's World Hub processes packages at the company's Small Packages Sorting System, which handles hundreds of thousands of letters and other documents every night.

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SPSS Matrix

At the SPSS, workers sort packages onto one of three belts. The packages are eventually sorted into bags that are designated for specific geographic destinations.

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Looking the other way

Looking down at the SPSS system from above, it's possible to see how the small documents are sent along a conveyor belt and routed into specific chutes, and eventually into bags.

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SPSS bags

The bags at the bottom of the picture are used to collect small packages for specific destinations. Each bag will be routed to a final destination.

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Chutes

A series of chutes used to move packages at the SPSS.

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SPSS rows

Row after row of conveyor belts moving small packages at FedEx' SPSS.

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SPSS bags on conveyors

Bags full of small packages make their way to planes that will take them to their eventual destinations at FedEx' SPSS at its World Hub in Memphis, Tenn.

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Carts full of bags

A cart packed tightly with bags full of small packages at FedEx's World Hub.

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Blue lights

The blue lights flashing meant everything at the FedEx World Hub had to come to a halt due to lightning within three miles.

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6-sided scanner

At FedEx's Ground Hub in Olive Branch, a six-sided scanner makes it possible for the company to send packages down a conveyor regardless of which side the label with the bar code is on. At its World Hub, workers have to ensure that the label is not facing down, because scanners can only see five sides of a package.

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Scanner

The six-sided scanner scans a package at FedEx's Ground Hub in Olive Branch, Miss.

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