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NORTH SIDE | FEDEX PACKAGE HANDLING & SORTING

Watch now: FedEx unveils new automated facility in Madison

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Joe Kerrigan remembers the manual efforts needed when he first started working in the 1990s as a package handler for FedEx.

It involved reading charts of ZIP codes, sorting packages by hand to different belts and marking and labeling boxes from flow charts to ensure they were in the correct shipping trailer.

Kerrigan, now a territory manager for FedEx, showed off the latest technology in one of the company’s newest facilities on Tuesday as a 385,000-square-foot package handling and sorting facility on Madison’s North Side was publicly unveiled.

FedEx

Visitors to the new automated FedEx sorting and distribution center make their way past a scanning device that reads and tracks packages and helps guide them to the proper loading dock. The 385,000-square-foot facility at Hoepker Road and Highway 51, opened about a year ago, but its public ribbon cutting was delayed until Tuesday due to the pandemic.

Located on 17 acres at the corner of Hoepker Road and Highway 51, the building has 400 employees but is considered fully automated. It includes conveyor systems lined with cameras, mirrors and scanners that can read detailed information on up to 15,000 packages an hour. Tracking timers are used to determine at which point a package is kicked down the correct chute to one of the 170 loading docks, each with a truck headed to a specific destination.

And much of it is overseen by a single employee in a central control room filled with television monitors providing live feeds from cameras overlooking conveyor and loading systems. There are computer screens that pump out data and panels filled with red and green buttons.

“This, in a sense, is the eyes and the ears and the brains of the operation,” Kerrigan said. “We can monitor everything from one central location to make sure everything is working properly and to try and catch any potential jams or issues that might be happening in the (sorting) system.”

FedEx

The control center of FedEx’s new sorting and distribution facility can be run by a single person, who monitors activity in the 385,000-square-foot building. But despite the automation, the facility still employs 400 people.

The facility, its ribbon cutting delayed due to the pandemic, opened about a year ago and is one of 160 fully automated facilities in the FedEx ground network of 690 sorting and distribution facilities around the country. However, more than 97% percent of the company’s daily package volume travels through an automated station each day, according to officials, who gathered Tuesday in a portion of the building as massive overhead fans provided some relief from an unusually humid spring day.

FedEx

Joe Kerrigan, a territory manager for FedEx, explains the operations of the company's new automated sorting and distribution center in Madison that can process 15,000 packages an hour.

Among those in attendance at the event was Zach Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, who said the Madison area’s central location, its population base and proximity to the interstate system makes the area a prime target for distribution and processing centers in a world where e-commerce continues to explode.

“The most important part of a facility like this is what it means for the future and what it says about where we’re going as a community,” Brandon said. “This is about access to talent, its access to supply chain, its access to transportation and its access to customers. And when you have facilities like this it creates that access. But it’s built on having a great and growing airport and having a great interstate system.”

FedEx

Delivery vehicles await packages at the new FedEx sorting and distribution facility at Hoepker Road and Highway 51.

In late 2021, Amazon announced plans for a 3.4 million-square-foot distribution and warehouse facility at the intersection of highways TT and N in the village of Cottage Grove just north of Interstate 94. The $200 million, five-story project on a 145-acre site would employ 1,500 people, operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and serve as a “middle mile” facility catering to large trucks that deliver to other distribution facilities that service delivery vans charged with final destinations for packages.

The new FedEx facility is considered a “final mile” building where many of the packages arriving are headed to addresses not only in Madison but as far north as Westfield, as far south as Janesville, Richland Center to the west and Waterloo to the east.

FedEx

An electric cargo delivery bike is shown off Tuesday and is part of a pilot delivery project by FedEx for Madison's Downtown. 

FedEx is also using Madison to test delivering packages in high-density areas using e-cargo bikes. The bikes are used to deliver smaller packages and may do two to three trips a day and can log around 95 miles on a single charge, said Tom Beeman, who manages FedEx delivery systems in the Midwest. The e-cargo bikes not only reduce carbon emissions but also reduce congestion and noise, can use existing bicycle and bus lanes and are able to find curbside parking more easily than vans, particularly in hard to access areas.

In 2018, FedEx opened a 156-door facility in Oak Creek and in 2015 opened a 200,000-square-foot facility in Menomonee Falls. The company is also in the midst of constructing a $21 million shipping and distribution facility in the Fox Valley village of Little Chute.

FedEx

FedEx Midwest distribution manager Tom Beeman addresses visitors at an open house of the company’s new distribution facility in Madison on Tuesday.

The new Madison facility, which includes wider conveyor belts to handle larger packages such as furniture and appliances, replaces a more manual building that could process 8,000 to 9,000 packages per hour, Beeman said.

“Automation has come so far, but our technology is going to continue to improve,” said Beeman, who worked at the Madison operation for four years beginning in the late 1990s. “Our growth has just really accelerated.”

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