Amazon’s robot program is getting ready to launch – right in time for the holidays.
Several U.S. warehouses across the country were outfitted with robots to facilitate the fulfillment process. The orange, wheeled robots move shelves to workers, rather than having the workers go to the shelves across the warehouse.
These robots are fast! For example, at the 1.2 million-square-foot warehouse in Tracy, CA, four floors of fixed shelving were replaced with robots. “Pickers” (human workers) at the facility stay put while the robots transport four by six foot shelving units to them for product selection. Prior to the installation of the robot helpers, pickers were walking up to 20 miles per day to prepare items for shipping. Under the old system, the warehouse would process 100 items per hour. With the robots, that is expected to grow to 300 per hour.
The new warehouse robots were a result of Amazon’s purchase of Kiva Systems in 2012. The $775 million acquisition was followed by Amazon’s ceasing the sales of Kiva robots to other customers. The focus switched to adapting the robots for Amazon’s own needs, which primarily included changing the software that runs them.
Making shopping an immediate experience. The strategic acquisition and implementation of robots at warehouses is part of Amazon’s aim to make shopping online an almost immediate experience. With more efficient logistics, Amazon can further reduce the amount of time that it takes to get products from the warehouse to consumers. Amazon has approximately 80 U.S. warehouses, and if the process of fulfilling orders is more streamlined, buyers could expect same day or overnight delivery on a variety of products.
Not only is this good for consumers, but it’s good for Amazon’s bottom line as well. The use of the robots could save the company approximately $400 million to $900 million a year in fulfillment costs. Because items are being “touched” less by employees and through systems, it reduces the per items cost of sorting, picking and boxing orders.
At this time next year, the robots could help Amazon increase its response to the busy holiday selling season, which accounts for one-third of the company’s annual revenue.