Take a field trip to the future: inside an Amazon fulfillment center
After you (or a parent) clicks “buy” on Amazon.com, how does the item you purchased magically get to you? What happens behind the scenes to move your package from a warehouse—at Amazon, we call them fulfillment centers or FCs—to your front door or mailbox?
In a nutshell, it all comes down to humans and robots working safely, efficiently, and seamlessly together. From the tech vests that associates wear to communicate with the robots, to the heavy-lifting orange drive units that boost efficiencies, Amazon technology helps our employees in so many incredible ways. And as you’ll see throughout the FC tour, safety is paramount, so there are many safety precautions in place to help keep all of our associates out of harm’s way when working alongside the robotic devices.
From the moment a product enters an FC to the moment it heads out on a truck, there’s a finely-tuned symphony of operations that most customers don’t know about. As one associate remarked, “There is so much cool technology that goes into this!”
Your tour guide for today, Cedric Ross, certainly agrees with his fellow employee’s sentiment.
Dubbed an “Amazon encyclopedia extraordinaire,” Cedric is a senior manager of FC tours. He first joined the company in 1997, working in shipping and receiving in what was then Amazon’s only warehouse, in Seattle’s Sodo District—believe it or not, we were selling only books at that point.
Cedric takes great pride in teaching visitors like you all about the incredible ways FC associates work alongside technology to deliver the ultimate customer experience. As he once said in an interview, “What many people don’t realize is that without the people involved—who work hard to deliver these different things on behalf of customers—Amazon wouldn’t be Amazon. That’s part of my job—to make sure people understand that by encouraging them to visit our fulfillment centers and take a tour.”
Customer inventory and inbound: robotic beauty in motion
In this first video, take a peek inside a “super-highway” at a 1 million-square-foot FC in Carteret, New Jersey, known as EWR9. Behind the scenes, technology from Amazon Web Services (AWS) identifies items that need to be pulled for customer orders. Watch as the robotic drive units boost efficiencies and help employees by delivering inventory to them, saving them valuable time each day.
You’ll also tour the inbound delivery area, where items come into the building off of trailers. Here, products move through a process known as “random stow,” which cuts down on the time it would otherwise take to divide and search inventory.
Next, we’ll head to a picking station, where employees locate and scan items to be moved along to the next step in the process. At this stage, an associate demonstrates how their tech vest works to help control and halt the movement of the robots to keep them safe on the floor. How cool is that?!
Drive units: The brains and brawn of the operation
As you’ll learn in this next video, the large orange units found throughout the FC are so smart, they’ll actually drive themselves to a charging station when they need a charge. Pretty neat, eh? Depending on the drive unit, they can lift between 750 and 1,000 pounds.
What happens in the rare case that a drive unit malfunctions? As Cedric explains, associates in the robotics repair unit who perform routine maintenance will assess and quickly solve the issue.
Palletizer: That’s one big arm you have!
The massive but superfast yellow arm known as the palletizer puts together a group of yellow totes onto a pallet so that items can be shrink-wrapped and delivered to another location. This robotic device is used to assist the employees in building the pallet and to ensure that all of the items are going to a destination where they can be merged with other items. Like the other robotic features found throughout the FC, the palletizer knows to temporarily shut itself off whenever an associate is nearby. Remember, safety first!
SLAM: Time to head out the door
Don’t worry, there’s no actual, physical slamming that goes on in the SLAM section of the FC. SLAM is actually an acronym that stands for this: scan, label, application, and manifest. This is the part of the process where we place shipping labels onto the envelopes and boxes.
During this stage, items move along a conveyor belt. The packages each have a barcode, but they don’t yet have shipping labels. Items are quickly scanned and weighed. That information is then transferred into “the cloud” before coming back down to identify and relay a customer’s shipping preference, in order for a postal service label to be printed. The appropriate label is then gently applied to the package—listen for the little hissing sound. This entire, impressive process occurs in a matter of mere seconds.
Once a label is applied to an item, the item moves to the outbound shipping area for the final stage of the FC process. It’s critically important to get this step right! As you’ll see in this last video, the conveyor belt almost looks like a racetrack, where every item has been assigned a specific shipping lane that leads to a corresponding trailer. Associates can then move the packages from the trailer onto a truck that will transport each item out of the FC and toward its ultimate destination—who knows, maybe your front door!
Virtual Kids Week activities are intended for children with involvement from a parent or guardian.