I joined Amazon in 2020 to help launch a new site in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Before I joined, I’d recently retired from serving 24 years in the Army where a large part of my work focused on logistics, so Amazon was the holy grail for me. I liked working at my site in Indiana, but when the opportunity came along to help train employees at the fulfillment center in San Marcos, Texas, I jumped. I was stationed in several cities in Texas during my time in the military, and I always knew I wanted to come back. I moved here with my wife and three kids and we’re loving it—everything from the weather to the cost of living.
As a learning area manager at an Amazon fulfillment center, it’s my responsibility to make sure our front-line employees get the training they need to deliver for our customers and excel in their careers. I’ve become very familiar with every part of the fulfillment process through my work. It’s a huge team effort with a lot of moving parts. Here’s how it works.
1.Products arrive at the fulfillment center
The first step is called “Inbound.” This is where products from manufacturers and sellers arrive at our fulfillment center. Our Inbound team unloads the products and adds each item to a yellow tote that’s about two feet long and a little over a foot wide. The totes are then transported to the “Stow” station where they will be organized and stored.
2.Each product is placed in a coded bin where it’s stowed until it’s purchased
Employees remove each item from the tote then place it in a coded bin within a large yellow storage tower—we call these “pods.” Products are stored in the pods until they are purchased. Small, flat, mobile robots find and retrieve the pods as items are purchased.
The mobile robots are guided by 2D barcodes on the floor of the fulfillment center as they move throughout the building—kind of like robotic street signs. The technology in this area also keeps a log of each item stored in the pod so our tracking system knows exactly where items are located in the fulfillment center.
As a safety measure, employees wear intelligent tech vests when they need to interact with the robots. This may happen if they need to pick up a product that dropped. The vests signal to our nearby mobile robots to stop movement when an employee gets close.
3.Your item continues its journey through the facility after you place your order
After you place your order, a mobile robot brings the pod containing your item to the “Pick” station. The employee at this station is directed by a shining light to pick the item you ordered from the pod. The item is checked for damage and then placed into a yellow tote. The tote has a physical and virtual map so we always know where the item is within the fulfillment center. After the tote is full, either by weight or dimensions, the employee pushes it onto a conveyor belt and it’s sent to the packing station.
4.Your product gets its packaging
Next up, the item arrives at the packing station where it gets its box or bag. Once a tote arrives at the packing station, an employee scans its barcode so the system knows what items are inside. As each item is removed and scanned, the system suggests a box or bag size based on product dimensions. The employee selects the correct packaging from their station and begins to build it with tape. Our tape machines dispense the exact amount needed to seal each box.
Once sealed, a barcode is affixed to the top of the package. This label contains the information needed to generate a shipping label at the next stop.
5.The box is scanned and labeled
The next step in the process is called “SLAM,” which stands for scan, label, apply, manifest. As packages arrive at the SLAM machine, barcodes are scanned, and the packages are weighed as they pass over a scale. This scale can detect discrepancies between the expected and actual weight of the item.
After the item passes over the scale, a robotic arm travels down to meet the box—this is where the shipping label is printed and affixed to the top of the box with a short blast of air. Once the box leaves the SLAM machine, it continues on to our shipping department.
6.Your package travels through the facility to a shipping truck
Next up, boxed and labeled packages head to the shipping sorter. They pass through a red scanner that reads the label and assigns each package a chute based on its destination. Packages are then routed down the chute that leads to their shipping trailer.
7.Your package is sent to the sortation center in preparation for delivery
The outbound station features a line of bays where large trucks pull up. Employees pack the trucks from floor to ceiling with Amazon boxes. We pack the trucks this way to prevent shifting and damage, and to use fewer trucks to get closer to our climate goals. This takes a little extra time, but it’s worth it to fulfill our customer promise.
Once the items are loaded up in the truck, they move on to the next steps beyond my facility. Most of the items that leave here are headed to a sortation center where they will be routed to the proper outbound truck and sent to a delivery station before arriving on your doorstep.
At the end of the day, nothing would happen in this building without the folks who come through the doors. Rome wasn't built in a day, and it definitely wasn't built by one person. My job is to help support our employees so they can continue delivering for customers, safely and in a way that gives them skills to grow their careers here at Amazon. It’s an honor to work with so many different people from different backgrounds, and to be a part of their professional growth.
You can check the bottom right side of the label on your Amazon packages to find out which fulfillment center they came from. If you’re interested in checking out one of Amazon’s fulfillment centers, you can sign up for a free virtual or in-person tour. In-person tours are available in North America, the UK, Germany, Italy, and Australia.