SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Robots assemble your packages at this new Amazon fulfillment center

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

It’s not every day you get a chance to see how Amazon gets items to your door.

So we took the tour to see the company’s newest fulfillment center in South Jersey – it also happens to be the first one in the area with robotics.

“Welcome to the robotics storage platform, what we call the RSP. This is where all the product in the building is actually stored,” said Nolan Sayre, Senior Amazon Robotics Lead.

Sayre says to think of the process like a library.

“We have aisles and aisles of shelving which is where all the product is stored. Same as the books in a library. The big difference is if I walked into a library looking for five books I’m walking up and down the aisles trying to find those. Whereas here the shelves come to me,” Sayre said.

These orange robots take walking out of the entire operation. They get a message when a product is ordered online, they know where to find it, and they know which associate to bring it to all on their own. When a customer places an order online, it goes through an algorithm which determines where that item is closest to the customer. If it happens to be in this fulfillment center – the robot would receive a message, it would know where the item was located, and it would know which associate to bring it to.

There are people trained to work with them if something happens but these robots operate on their own.

“In order to interact with the robot it takes specialized training. So, I’m using a Kindle to move them around. Not everyone can go on the floor so it’s actually restricted access,” said Sayre, “so, as an associate I’m no longer walking up and down aisles searching for the product that you ordered on Amazon. Rather, I’m standing here, stationary and picking the products right off the shelves.”

We’re told these robots are about 300 pounds and can lift up to 1,300 pounds.

“Each of these pods can actually store upwards of about 600 products in a single one,” Sayre said.

From here the products are placed into a yellow bin – then onto the conveyor – where they’re eventually boxed and shipped to your door. The facility is big enough to hold almost 30 football fields at more than 1.7 million square feet.

“We are in the process now of doing the final touches and the building is officially going to open the door sometime next month in the middle of September,” said Jasmin Begagic, general manager of the fulfillment center in West Deptford.

Since Amazon opened operations in New Jersey in 2012 – they’ve employed 16,000 full-time employees at eight different fulfillment centers.

“Amazon has had a great partnership with the state of New Jersey,” said Ryan Smith, regional director of operations for Amazon.

Which brings us to the obvious question – will Amazon be bringing its HQ2 headquarters to Newark? It’s on the shortlist, but the company hasn’t announced which city it will select. What we do know is Amazon says its HQ2 will bring in up to 50,000 high-paying jobs to the city it chooses.

“Unfortunately, I’ll hear it the same day as everyone else. No inside information from me,” Smith said.

In the meantime – the company plans to hire people to fill more than 2,000 full-time new jobs at this fulfillment center in West Deptford.

“At the end of the day, we can have all the latest technology, but without associates we can’t make this building successful,” said Begagic.

An Amazon spokesperson put it this way – these robots won’t replace people – they just allow them to work more efficiently and safer.

“At the end of the day the associates are the heart and soul of these buildings,” Smith said.

Just don’t tell that to the robots.