January 23, 2017

Amazon builds 21st robotic warehouse

One in seven fulfillment centers now manned by bots from former Kiva Systems.

By Ben Ames

E-commerce giant Amazon.com Inc. said it plans to build a highly automated warehouse in Texas that will become the 21st facility in its "Amazon Robotics fulfillment network," a cluster of high-speed, high-density warehouses that can each hold 50 percent more inventory than a DC staffed by humans alone, the company said Wednesday.

The warehouse, located in Coppell in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, will be the company's ninth fulfillment center in Texas, counting standard and robotic DCs. In addition to hosting a new fleet of robots, the building will add 1,000 new full-time positions for human employees. The one-million-square-foot facility will have employees and their robotic colleagues working together to pick, pack, and ship small items such as books, electronics, and toys.

These warehouses run by teams of humans and robots now account for 13 percent—or 21 out of 150—of Amazon's total fulfillment centers across the globe, company spokeswoman Ashley Robinson said in an email.

North Reading, Mass.-based Amazon Robotics is the division of the Seattle-based online retailer that includes the mobile, orange rectangular robots originally developed by Massachusetts startup Kiva Systems LLC. Amazon acquired the firm in 2012 for $775 million. Soon thereafter, it ended sales of the bots to companies outside the Amazon network.

Amazon now has 45,000 of those robotic units working alongside Amazon employees in those 20 fulfillment centers worldwide, according to the company. Kiva robots automate a warehouse by maneuvering underneath racks of inventory, then lifting the shelves and automatically bringing them to central packing stations so human workers no longer have to walk around buildings filling pick lists.

With their ability to hold so much more inventory than warehouses solely operated by human employees, the robotics DCs pay off in several ways, Robinson said. "Improving storage capacity within the fulfillment centers means we can have more customer products on hand, enabling vast selection and in-stock inventory for customers," Robinson said.

"Additionally, processing times using Amazon Robots went from what could take up to several hours to mere minutes, enabling faster ship times to customers. And finally, the reduced walking in the building enables faster order processing times for customers," she said.

About the Author

Ben Ames
Senior Editor
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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