The Hub of the Universe

By Claire Swedberg | Sep 15, 2003
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Thousands of people rush through the airport terminal in Louisville, Ky., every day, never suspecting the activity going on next door. The airport is also home to a mammoth state-of-the-art UPS sorting station unrivaled for speed and efficiency. Packages are whisked by the thousands down a complex network of conveyor belts to their destination almost entirely untouched by human hands.

The work was completed nearly three years ago, but it is still fresh in the memories of hundreds of electricians who were part of the project that made Louisville (for a brief time) the site of the largest construction site in the world. The project doubled the size of UPS’s existing package sorting operation and cost approximately $1.1 billion for buildings, paving, equipment and land.

Hub 2000, UPS’s largest capital project ever, was designed for volume. It allows 44 aircraft to be unloaded or loaded at any given time. During peak loads, UPS is capable of moving 304,000 packages an hour.

To do this, the facility includes a 910,000-square-foot central building, three wings for UPS planes, new taxiways and a utility building. The core facility also has an 11,000-square-foot computer room. The complete hub measures 2.75 million square feet under roof, with a 2-million-foot footprint.

The interior statistics are just as staggering. There is 4,482 miles of fiber optic cabling. The 17,000 conveyors make their way through the hub. Those conveyors would stretch more than 122 miles in length if lined up. About 9,200 work at the hub, including 7,000 to 8,000 part-time package handlers.

To bring the project to completion, area contractors of all kinds summoned their maximum resources, and the electrical contractors were no exception. Six local electrical contractors took on a three-year commitment that made their small companies swell three, four or five times their usual size. For journeymen it was the largest electrical job anywhere.

It all began with design work in 1997 by construction manager Hunt Construction Group. The systems integrator for the handling systems came from Europe. VenDerLande Industries from Veghel, Netherlands was also the supplier of sorting equipment. Hunt’s task was to oversee the work of seven primary contractors and more than 200 subcontractors. The software and network service architecture was provided by Siemens Dematic AG.

The job peaked in the summer of 2001 with as many as 1,850 workers on site. The site included so many trailers for workers from out of the area that it became known as “Trailer City.”

Contractors were almost all facing the largest job they had ever encountered. Some of those most closely involved were:

• Comstock Brothers Electric Co. performed the electrical installation for the irregular package handling system.

• Marine Electric Co. from Louisville was one of the key players. They ran 12 miles of 15,000V cable from two Louisville Gas and Electric Co. substations through underground concrete tunnels.

• Henderson Electric Services LLC brought about 1 million feet of cabling to the site to connect the facility’s fire alarm system and lighting system. Henderson also installed a fiber optic backbone that feeds to telephone and computer lines.

• UPS and Louisville Gas and Electric Co. built a new Grade Lane substation to provide enough power to the facility.

• Delta Electric is a small to midsize company, but played the largest role in the project. They provided and installed the conveyor electrical controls system for the hub’s parcel sorting and small sorting systems

• Derbytown Electric installed 17 miles of cable tray during phases I through IV. For phase II and III they installed the emergency egress lights.

• Advanced Electrical Systems Inc. installed fixtures receptacles panel boards and cable tray.

Advanced Electrical Systems Inc. (AES) had an entire staff of support people, engineers and project management on site for the two and a half years they were involved.

Phase 1 was a crucial phase for design work of the rest of the hub. Everything that was designed and installed for the core facility was used as the prototype for the rest of the core and other wings. For AES, the first phase included installing a power distribution system and lighting for core and wing office complexes. AES also managed the cable tray installation. They oversaw the cabling and wiring for one of the largest computer rooms.

“This was an extremely fast-paced project from the inception,” said Evelyn Strange of AES. The task involved daily coordination with the multitude of other contractors and interests at the site. “There were many crucial periods of time when the project scope of work changed significantly,” putting an additional burden on electrical workers, Strange said. She said deadlines were successfully met only because of the cooperation of all those involved in the project.

AES installed more than 4,000 high-bay fixtures, 5,000 lay-in fixtures, 4,500 receptacles, 1,500 lighting switches, 400 panel boards and over 13 miles of cable tray. To complete all this, AES had (at peak periods) 140 electricians on-site.

Marine Electric Co. was founded in the early part of the 20th century for a very different function: to provide electric service for the steamboat traffic on the Ohio River. Ninety years later, the company was the successful contractor for the utility/primary portion of the Hub 2000 project. With a contract exceeding $6 million, Marine Electric was responsible to receive handle and install two 3,000A, 15kV switchgear lineups in the utility building. They also installed 22, 2,000kVA double-ended substations and four rooftop-mounted Chiller Power Zone Center/Substations.

Marine also installed approximately 12 miles of cable. From each sectionalizing switch to each substation, they installed about 135,000 feet of 15kV cable and 25,000 feet of 5-inch PCV conduit.

Henderson Services installed a state-of-the-art fire alarm system manufactured by Siemens. They also installed a total turn-key lightning elimination system on the roof of the new hub. On Wing B, they installed all the light and power. The lighting system consisted of HID high-bay fixtures with a flexible modular wiring system. They also installed 120V receptacles as well as 4,800V welding receptacles as part of the branch power requirements. In addition, Henderson installed a fiber backbone and associated data drops for the entire hub.

Delta Electric of Louisville earned the largest part of the electrical work—not because of their own size so much as their familiarity with the site. Bill Litch, president of Delta Electric, said his electricians had been working on the site at UPS long before the construction. For Hub 2000, Delta connected power to the computer control panels for the conveyer motors. They employed some 350 electricians to get this job done and put two double-width trailers on the site for them and their tools. Delta used wire and fiber-optic cables to power the computer control panels. These tell the 17,000 conveyer belts when to stop, when to speed up and when to slow down.

For midsized Delta, the first challenge was convincing the general contractors and UPS that Delta could handle the scope of the job. “The good news was we got the project—and the bad news happened to be the same news,” Litch commented.

Upon winning the contract, Delta created its own Hub 2000 division. Key positions were dedicated for the project, including project managers, an office manager, an administrative staff and a materials manager and executive control.

Delta Electric provided and installed the conveyor electrical controls system for the hub’s sorting systems. With the work at hand, they were responsible for the design development and the installation of all conduit and wiring from the system MCPs to the conveyor motors and field devices. Their tasks also included installation of fiber optic and Category 5 cabling to support high-speed data acquisition and distribution. The fiber optic network provided the interface to the main computer hardware and Oracle database program.

In all, Delta installed 70,000 fiber optic termination points and nearly 4,500 miles of fiber. They also installed the electric wiring for the dimensional weighing system (also known as the barcode data acquisition), which is used for identification and routing. They wired the small-sort tilt sorters both internally and in the field. They also installed and laid out electrical feeds from the main electrical distribution to motor control panels. At its peak, Delta employed not only 350 electricians but about 225 field and supervisory electricians.

Litch said the number of electricians on site often made it hard to keep control of every facet of the job. “It was tough,” he said. They hired many electricians at a time when there weren’t as many people with those qualifications in the area looking for work. Keeping up with commercial jobs when Delta had so many electricians at the UPS site every day was a challenge. “We were the largest contractor in Kentucky for that time,” Litch pointed out.

Another challenge was the fact that the project was bid before there was a complete system layout. Device counts, conveyor line routing and motor horsepower were still unknown for about 70 percent of the installation. Delta put about 80 percent of its dollar value on the project into the parcel sorting system. They worked closely with VenDerLande Industries. This was VI’s first job in the United States. All of VI’s automated sorting equipment was engineered and fabricated in the Netherlands.

Delta’s general manager of the project, Bill Korfhage, made no fewer than 10 trips to Veghel, Netherlands, to help in modifying the system design for compliance with NEC and UPS installation specifications. Litch said he was there several times himself.

“We had to teach them how to build by American standards,” Litch said. “It was hard. Their culture and ways were different than ours. They have their thinking and they don’t always want to hear about UPS’ standards.”

Finally VI shipped and installed the mechanical system in congruence with the mechanical production schedule. This created another challenge for Delta. “This installation was never in sequence with the required electrical installation or system control requirements,” Litch said. Because of this, Delta had to double back for installation and system acceptance. Delta held weekly meetings to discuss the timeline and new schedule dates.

In addition, Delta rented off-site storage space to hold the massive material inventory they needed. To deliver those materials, Delta used a site escort to the facility and a material handler to oversee the material transportation on the site. Delta also purchased buses and provided drivers to transport the field staff to the site.

Comstock Brothers Electric Co. of Louisville was another moderate-size electrical contractor. To prepare themselves for this large job, Comstock sent a representative to spend nine days at the German facility of Mannesmann Dematic Co., which manufactured the conveyors. Comstock’s 65 journeymen installed miles of cable tray systems and cables in each of the three main wings as well as the main connector and an interface with the existing building; this took 100,000 man-hours.

Jay Comstock was quick to identify the successful ingredient in the project: “Our people are without question our greatest resource and because we have such talented dedicated and loyal individuals within our organization, we are able to perform virtually any task and be successful at doing so." EC

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at [email protected]. 


About The Author

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at [email protected].





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