Posted by: Rob Hof on December 27, 2005
I toured Amazon.com’s massive, automated distribution center in Fernley, Nevada, a couple weeks ago, and we ran a slide show on how it works. I really wanted to include video on the slides, but I couldn’t find a way to upload them to a separate video service fast enough. I tried Google’s video upload service, and I’m STILL waiting for it to be “verified,” whatever that means. I couldn’t get Ourmedia or Grouper to work for me (which easily could be the result of my particular setup or some instruction I missed). So on the advice of a reader (Thanks, Josh Morgan!), I tried Revver, and it seems to work.
Since the reason for offering these videos is rather moot now, I’m mostly doing this as a sort of test of one way to provide video, or at least video links, on this blog. Let me know what you think.
Anyway, here are some links to video that I shot with my digital camera. It won’t win any awards—and a warning, even though they’re very short, they take awhile to load—but it’s kind of fun to see how the machinery works. So here goes:
Here’s a worker at the start of the distribution process loading green “totes.” Products are picked from endless shelves, placed into the totes, and later sorted into individual customer orders as they run through some nine miles of conveyors.
Machinery in the “induction” area whisks products that have just been scanned by a worker into wooden “tilt trays” that later dump products into a chute that collects all the orders for a particular customer. It’s kind of spooky how intelligently it seems to avoid crowding more than one product onto a tray.
This so-called Crisplant machinery automatically sorts orders that individual customers have placed for multiple items, dropping them one by one into the same chute. It’s almost unimaginable this even works at all.
We actually found senior VP of operations Jeff Wilke’s order. Here, he’s talking about why digital cameras and other consumer electronics products are a profitable kind of item for Amazon to stock and sell.
One of the last steps in the distribution process is here, a machine that stamps the box with the address.
Finally, the package is deposited for outbound delivery, which is where you really see how much stuff Amazon sells and distributes. From here, packages are manually sorted depending on where they’re going to be shipped.
By the end, it’s abundantly apparent that Amazon has built much, much more than a slick Web site. But we won’t know until early next year how well it performed at this least virtual of its tasks.