Water Spiders, Amnesty, and Stow: A Glimpse Into Amazon’s Tech-Fueled Fulfilment Centers

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Amazon is known for its impressive delivery capabilities. From its famed Prime next-day service to experiments with drone and robot technologies to state-of-the-art, regionalized fulfillment centers, the retail giant is always at the forefront of innovation when it comes to getting orders out the door and into customers’ hands. 

So how do they do it? In a recent blog post, the manager of a fulfillment center in Tracy, California, shed light on the processes fueling these capabilities, the team members keeping orders flowing, and the technologies underpinning it all. 

Mohammed Khan, assistant general manager at the Amazon robotics fulfillment center in Northern California, joined Amazon a decade ago, starting in customer order picking and packing. Amazon's robotics fulfillment centers store millions of items, using state-of-the-art technology to stow, pick, pack, and ship orders across the world. 

The fulfillment network involves employees checking and ensuring the quality of each item before shipping, emphasizing the importance of human involvement alongside technology.

Amazon offers diverse job opportunities, and fulfillment center employees worldwide work collaboratively to meet customer expectations. 

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The various roles within Amazon fulfillment centers include Inbound, Water Spider, Stow, Pick, Amnesty, Pack, and Outbound. 

  • Inbound associates receive products and use robotic palletizers to simplify movement and eliminate the need for manual heavy lifting.
  • Water Spiders – a Kanban term originating from Toyota manufacturing – involves focusing on stock replenishment, keeping workstations fully stocked, and assisting with the movement of products within the fulfillment center.
  • Stow department employees use technology-driven features to sort and scan products, making them available for customers to purchase on the website.
  • Pick stations leverage robotics to locate and transport items for employees to scan, ensuring a responsive, user-friendly, and safe work environment.
  • Amnesty responders work alongside the robotics technology to problem-solve on the floor, identifying items that fall off racks and may get in the way of robots
  • Pack team members place products into the Amazon boxes or padded envelopes, following guidance from specialized systems that instruct them on the suitable box or envelope size and the specific padding required. Another system is responsible for cutting a precisely sized piece of tape and generating a sticker for scanning during the outbound process. 
  • Finally, in the outbound stage, employees arrange boxes of various shapes to fit within a constructed wall of boxes inside the trucks. These packaged boxes are then transported to Amazon delivery stations or carrier partners, ultimately reaching customers' doorsteps through the delivery process.

As humans and technology increasingly work hand-in-hand, Khan says the investments in automation and robotics have actually created new jobs and enhanced the safety of associates in Amazon’s fulfillment centers. 

“As assistant general manager, I like to think of my day-to-day role like that of a pro basketball coach. Each day, I have the opportunity to coach my colleagues and champion their ideas to deliver for my community,” Khan shares. 

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