Inside Amazon's smart warehouse
Amazon changed the warehouse, logistics, and materials handling industry forever.
They became the heavyweight of the online shopping universe, thanks largely to their lightning fast delivery times. But this wasnt achieved without some serious thinking and innovation.
During 2020, with the world gripped by the Covid pandemic, Amazon managed to record global revenues of around 350 billion dollars, which is roughly double what they reported in 2017. Their reputation is built upon speed, with customers being able to ask Alexa, or use the phone app to request almost ‘anything’ to be delivered to your door in around 24 hours. Because of this amazon needs to be able to move an unbelievable amount of product from factorties around the world, all day every day.
So how do they achieve this?
Well, before you have even logged onto the app, Amazon will have a fairly good idea as to what you want to buy. Their algorithm will make some assumptions based on purchase history, location, age and sex. In January 2020 Amazon even predicted a rise in the number of facemasks that would be required globally.
Amazon uses an army of ‘pods’ that bring whole shelves to human workstations to be picked. ‘Kiva Systems’ was bought by Amazon in 2012, and that is where some of this technology developed. The robots are about 30cm in height and can pick up shelves weighing upto 450 kg, travelingl at around 3mph. It is estimated that because of this the modern warehouses can hold upto 50% more stock at any time, compared to previous warehouses. This also reduces cost, and makes quicker fulfilment a reality. Since rolling out the system they have around 200k robots, and they are now on a newer iteration called Xanthus. These robots are controlled by AI ensuring that they follow the quickest route, and when they run low on battery they find their way to a charging station. Cameras on the floor of the robot also understand various QR codes on the warehouse floor to feed them information.
There are also miles and liles of the latest conveyor systems equipped with smart technology and sensors to automate and feedback fullfilment information to central control systems.
Complete automation is not here yet though so Amazon's management techniques needed to also contribute to the revolution. Ultimately meaning that they need less human support, in this iteration of warehouse, then they ever did in their early days. When goods arrive at factories they need to be unpacked by humans for example. They also use ‘gaming’ known as ‘FC Games’ to encourage workers to meet fulfillment targets, and contribute towards one day delivery. What does this mean? It means that humans can play 6 different games with their colleagues, which digitally represent the fulflment process. In doing so they can win rewards or virtual currency to spend with Amazon.
Amazon now has a new 40 million dollar robotics lab just outside Boston, and a patent for floating airship-like fulfillment centres. Couple this with their plan for delivery drones and Amazon shows no sign of stopping the innovation that has changed the factory, warehouse, and product movement industry for ever.
As always please feel free to get in touch with your requirements and plans for conveyor systems, we are only too happy to see how we can help.