Warehouse Operations Manager Mike Calabro’s day starts at 1:30 am. “We’re going to mail 38,000 discs today, and we have to do it before the Post Office closes,” he said, while turning on the lights at Netflix DVD’s Anaheim warehouse. The cavernous space was filled with row upon row of spotless white carts stacked high with DVDs, 3.8 million discs in total. It's quiet, but not for long.
As Mike’s crew arrives, the hum of machinery begins to fill the warehouse. Staff members wheel loaded carts through the long aisles between sorting machines. “We’re shipping 38,000 discs today,” Mike said, “but we’ll need to run nearly a quarter-million discs through the sorter to find the right titles.”
A worker slides a sheaf of 335 DVDs into the spring-loaded magazine that feeds the sorter. The machine grabs discs one at a time and sends them shooting at 18 feet per second down a long track. A camera at the top of the track photographs a barcode on each disc’s envelope as it passes. “The sorter is 75 yards long, and it files the discs into 78 bins,” Mike says. “Within the first six feet of the track, the computer has identified the disc, checked with the server, and determined which bin it will go into. This machine will sort 30,000 discs per hour, as long as we keep it running smoothly.”
After a quick walkthrough, Mike sits down to his first task of the morning: relabeling. “Quality control is a huge part of what we do. We want to make sure that the customers are watching great content. When it shows up, it needs to look nice, and we have to make sure the disc is playable.”
He sits at a quality control workstation and begins printing new adhesive labels for discs. “I'll spend hours just relabeling discs, putting the discs into a brand new sleeve, putting a new label on it so it looks nice and clean and beautiful when it gets to the customer’s home,” Mike says. He finishes the day’s first batch and sets up from the printing station. “I try to get up every 10 or 15 minutes for a quick line audit.”
Mike walks past the row of sorting machines and pauses to watch one of the warehouse’s “stuffer” machines. Behind a plexiglass shield, the stuffer’s articulated arms are a flurry of action, loading 4,500 discs into Netflix DVD’s iconic red mailing envelopes every hour. But the machine’s arms aren't Mike’s main focus. “On these walkthroughs, I’m making sure the operators are engaged,” he says. “An engaged worker is going to be safe and productive.”
Mike’s walkthroughs are part of the culture of safety at Netflix DVD. “To keep a safe workplace, I’m always checking the aisles, looking for trip hazards. We audit the machines, as well—they require daily maintenance and adjustment.”
Years of experience at the warehouse help Mike spot problems before they stop the line. “We listen to the machines a lot,” he says. “You can tell when a belt is getting worn, or when a roller needs lubrication. And part of the ongoing audit and training process is to help workers notice these issues--I’ll ask them, ‘Do you hear that?’ and encourage them to give us continuous feedback.”
Mike’s focus on safety gives his crew room to innovate. “Within a framework of safety, we encourage creativity. Nearly every day, somebody will come tell me about an improvement they’ve made to the process. And that gives me so much joy, to see what these guys come up with. This team has overcome so many challenges.”
Bringing it Home
The mailing deadline is drawing near, and Mike tries to remember that every DVD moving through the stuffer represents a unique experience. “We have a warehouse full of great content,” he said. “These are amazing movies. They will stay with people for the rest of their lives, and we try to never lose sight of that.
“I know what it is, personally, to love a movie. I have 108 discs in my queue right now. I’ll watch movies over and over again, just because I love them so much,” he said. “I think about all our customers across the country, and that joy when you see that red mailer in your mailbox. And that’s hugely fulfilling.”