Update: More photos of the Netflix shipping center are available on Flickr.
No, we didn't break in -- Netflix invited HackingNetflix to tour the Hartford shipping center, and even let us take a few photos. 50 employees at the 20,000 square foot Hartford shipping center process as many as 90,000 discs per day, or 275,000 per week.
Even though we knew the address, the shipping center was hard to find. Located in an unmarked warehouse in the local business district, the only outside mention of Netflix was on the trucks they use to pick up and deliver the DVDs.
3a.m. The mail is picked up from the Postal Distribution Center and the workers start processing the DVDs. Each envelope is ripped open by hand, and the DVDs are inspected for cracks. If you look closely at the photo you can see the Blockbuster Online discs that were delivered to Netflix by mistake.
If a disc is dirty, the DVD is cleaned using a sprayer with glass cleaner and the disc is rubbed on what appears to be paper towels.
Most of the discs are place in a tray to be sorted by machine, but cracked, Blu-ray, damaged, and mislabeled discs are placed in separate bins. The also collect customer notes.
The four steps of rental return, according to a huge banner hanging over the rental return area:
Netflix's Steve Swasey explains how the NPI First Class Mail Sorter works. Once the discs have been inspected, they are run through the sorting machine.
The NPI sorter performs multiple tasks, and is even used to process employee time cards. The DVDs are run through the machine once to check them back into inventory, a second time to determine if they are being rented that day, and finally to be addressed and sorted for mailing when they are in the envelope. The Hartford shipping center has 3 of the NPI machines, and they are incredible fast and process 30,000 discs per hour.
In the above photo (from right to left) you can see the first barcode scanner, inkjet printer for addressing, and the final scanner for sorting.
Netflix has developed highly-customized machines for inserting the DVDs into envelopes and sealing them called Stuffers. The Hartford shipping center has 5 Stuffers, and each one can process 4,200 envelopes per hour.
The Stuffers load the envelope onto a conveyor, use suction to open the pocket, slide the DVD into he envelope, fold the cover over, seal the envelope, and apply the round sticker.
The following photo shows the discs being inserted into the envelope and the cover being folded back over for sealing:
The final step is to add the center sticker to the envelope:
Netflix stores movies at all 58 shipping centers, and the movies that are not currently in circulation are stored in a corner of the building. Netflix rents more than 95% of the 100,000 titles every quarter, and on most days almost half of the titles are in circulation.
The layout of the warehouse simple, with the NPI sorting machines and stuffers in the middle, and the rental return workstations in two rows. Movies that are not in active circulation are stored in a corner, and the employee lounge is in another corner.
Here's a panorama shot taken from one corner of the warehouse (click for full-size):