Share
February 23, 2016 8:40 AM, EST
Amazon to Open Minnesota Warehouse Staffed by ‘Hundreds’ of Robots
Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg News

Amazon.com Inc. on Feb. 19 showed off the interior of its Shakopee, Minnesota, fulfillment facility that later this year will teem with “hundreds and hundreds” of robots assisting about 1,000 humanoid employees.

The facility, covering 20 acres — or just under 1 million square feet — will become the online retailer’s 14th “robotics fulfillment facility” notable for flattened orange machines that do fetching chores for their biological overlords.

The fulfillment center will be the point of origin for smaller items — such as books and DVDs — and is intended to expedite shipping of such merchandise to customers, many but not all in the Twin Cities.

“The center enables us to deliver a higher amount of items with faster delivery,” said Amazon’s Brian Urkiel, who oversees work on the facility.

The Shakopee complex has been in the works since late last year. Amazon declined to be more specific about when operations there are scheduled to begin.

But on Feb. 19, the fulfillment center had the look of a facility that is rapidly nearing completion, though it still is being called an “active construction site.”

A portion with four levels — the robots’ kingdom, mainly — is in place. So is a separate section with two levels where the human workforce primarily will congregate.

Such fulfillment centers have a two-stage system, with the robots grabbing “pods” containing consumer products and ferrying them to workers, who engage in the more complex series of “picking, stowing and counting” procedures.

The robots, weighing 320 pounds each and capable of lifting about 750 pounds, read bar codes on the flooring to figure out their locations as they scuttle about with their merchandise-laden pods. Amazon isn’t saying how many of these robots will be deployed in Shakopee, using only the phrase “hundreds and hundreds.”

Products will then, in some cases, go to a nearby Amazon sorting facility and, in other cases, be picked up by shippers such as UPS Inc. or FedEx Corp. Shipments will be dispatched through dozens of dock doors, regardless.

Urkiel said the complex is a “marriage of the latest and greatest fulfillment technology and robotics technology.”

Urkiel recently ran a robotics fulfillment center in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

He said Amazon has about 50 nonrobotic fulfillment facilities in the United States and a total of about 100 such centers worldwide.

The Shakopee facility contains enough steel to build two Eiffel towers, and 400 miles of electrical wiring, Urkiel noted.

Yet it’s not an especially “green” facility at a time when companies such as Apple are making newer structures less dependent on traditional energy sources. The Shakopee center has no solar panels on the roof, for instance.

Amazon isn’t saying how much it will pay its human workers but noted wages will be about 30% more than what retail workers typically earn. They also will get medical benefits, 401(k) matching and a stock plan “from day one,” Urkiel said.

The Shakopee complex and nearby sorting center have little to do with a Minneapolis facility that is handling Amazon Prime Now orders. That service provides one-hour shipping of tens of thousands of products to customers in the Twin Cities.