Robots Do The Walking, Lifting At High-Tech Amazon.com Warehouse

Feb 13, 2015

Amazon.com provided a rare look Friday inside one of its gigantic, high tech warehouses.

The new fulfillment center in DuPont, Washington, is Amazon's third in the Pacific Northwest. A fourth is already under construction in the Seattle suburb of Kent, as the e-commerce giant puts emphasis on delivery speed.

Amazon described its new DuPont fulfillment center as "eighth generation" during a grand opening ceremony.

Vice President for North American Operations Mike Roth said each successive wave of new warehouses makes more use of proprietary software and robots to whisk goods in and out of storage.

"They do all the repetitive, tedious work that most humans don't like to do," Roth said. "Walking around all day long is a hard job. So these robots driving around, presenting the product to the associates - they love it."

As Roth gave a tour, dozens of squat orange robots shuttled quietly behind him in a computer-choreographed ballet. Roth said he doubts the robots will take over completely though.

"I do not ever see the time that a building like this can run without people," he said.

Roth said the hundreds of workers at this center are better than computers at what he calls the "tetris puzzle" of packing boxes and then maximizing semi-trailer loads.

"We've come a long way," he said remembering Amazon's original 93,000 square foot warehouse in south Seattle. Nineteen years ago it stocked only books and CDs.

Amazon's latest fulfillment centers, including the new one in DuPont, cover about 1 million square feet. That is bigger than 17 American football fields.

Amazon now prides itself on having "earth's largest selection" of products.

A spokeswoman assisting Roth with the media tour said Amazon presently operates more than 50 fulfillment centers in North America. The heavy investment stems from a distribution strategy to get more warehouses closer to more people to cut delivery times.

The DuPont warehouse opened for business last summer, but Amazon waited to iron out the kinks to show it off to the invited public on Friday.

The company also ships products from older fulfillment centers in Bellevue and Sumner, Washington.

In 2012, Amazon acquired Massachusetts-based Kiva Systems, which makes the autonomous robot shuttles that look like oversized Roomba vacuums.

Some Amazon distribution centers also feature one of the largest robotic arms in production. It lifts and stows heavy pallets of incoming goods automatically.