Amazon brings on packing robots to speed up production

For years now, Amazon has utilized various automated solutions to make its fulfillment operations more efficient. The e-commerce giant’s interest in full automation has often been criticized because it’s causing an increase in technological unemployment. Nevertheless, the corporation has continued to pivot away from maintaining a large human staff.

On May 13, the company reportedly made a great leap forward in making its warehouse workforce redundant thanks to the implementation of new packing robots.

The firm contracted Italian robotics company CMC Srl to build machines that can pack orders faster than human workers. CMC delivered the CartonWrap, an automated solution that can fill 600 to 700 orders an hour.

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The innovative system is four to five times faster than Amazon’s traditional workforce. Already deployed in warehouses in Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States, each CartonWrap can effectively replace 24 staffers.

CMC has also sold its packing robots to Walmart and Chinese online retailer JD.com.

Reuters notes that if Amazon installed packing machines in all of its 55 U.S.-based warehouses, it could reduce its labor force by 1,300. Though the firm pays $1 million plus operational fees for each CartonWrap, it expects machines to pay for themselves within two years.

The Picking Problem

Despite Amazon’s vast resources, its efforts to make the notion of “warehouse jobs” an anachronism has had mixed results. For instance, the conglomerate has yet to find a way to replace “pickers,” employees who troll the aisles of its facilities looking for items customers have purchased.

In the past, the firm’s attempts at using picker robots have ended badly. One incident involved an autonomous machine accidentally puncturing a can of bear mace and hospitalizing dozens of workers. To overcome their deficiency, Amazon has turned to a number of enterprising startups.

For example, Boston-based Soft Robotics created an octopus-like machine that can perform a variety of retrieval tasks. Last month, the corporation bought a Colorado firm called Canvas Technologies because it built an autonomous delivery cart bot. However, Amazon has yet to announce the widespread implementation of a new automated picking method.

If Amazon’s work with various robotic startups doesn’t bear fruit, the organization could always look to Google. In March, the Alphabet subsidiary revealed it reopened its robotics division with an eye toward developing new industrial robots to streamline distribution for large corporations.

An Offer to Human Workers

An Amazon spokesperson told Reuters the company doesn’t want to lay off its entire warehouse workforce. In fact, the firm intends to transition some of its packers into new technical roles via ongoing training. The corporation also launched a buyout plan that contains some unusual conditions.

According to a press release, Amazon is offering its employees $10,000 to quit the corporation and start their own package delivery businesses. The firm sweetened the deal by committing to pay workers three months of their gross salary while they get their startups off the ground.

The organization launched the initiative for two reasons. One, CEO Jeff Bezos has been trying to rid his company of unhappy employees for the last five years. Two, Amazon wants more nationwide delivery options.

Since last year, the company has been paying drivers to deliver its products with the Amazon logo adorning their vehicles.

As generous as Amazon’s entrepreneurship plan is, it’s still one that benefits the merchant directly. The program also helps the company eliminate costly employee positions in favor of creating new independent contractor deals.

Though the Big Tech firm has many faults, failing to find new ways to improve its bottom line isn’t one of them.

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