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August 11, 2017 12:00 PM, EDT
Amazon’s Warehouse Robots Are Boosting Productivity, Getting Goods to Customers Faster
Amazon Warehouse Robot Jim Young/Bloomberg News

The new human jobs – 1,500 in this case – got the headlines, but it’s the robots that make online retail giant Amazon’s new Sacramento, Calif., distribution center zing.

The robots allow the 855,000 square-foot center set to open in late August to store 50% more goods and ship goods faster than a facility without robotics, company officials say. The multimillion dollar facility is located at Metro Air Park near Sacramento International Airport in unincorporated Sacramento County.

A similar sized facility in Texas was able to fulfill one million orders in one day during the holiday shopping season, according to company officials.

Coated in orange plastic, these robots more closely resemble extra-large Roomba vacuum cleaners than Star Wars’ C-3PO or R2-D2.

While in operation, the boxy robots pickup whole vertical shelves of products and deliver them to the human sorters, rather than employees walking the warehouse in search of the items.

With similar sites stocked with 3.5 million different products, that innovation saves a lot of time. The robots move at five miles per hour. and use reference codes marked on the floor to locate stock. The center will help the company fulfill orders in minutes, rather than hours using conventional sorting and packing techniques, officials said.

“It’s an exciting new technology. It allows us to fulfill our customers orders efficiently,” said Jordan Nelson, the facility’s incoming general manager. “The bots lift up a pod that has product on it and brings that product to an associate that is at a station.”

At one stop on a tour of the facility Thursday, Nelson stressed the educational offerings for employees and called the company, ‘a great employer.’

The hope among those pushing the economic vitality of the region is that the Amazon facility will be the first of many large high tech businesses opening at the 1,900-acre Metro Air Park.

The area near Sacramento International Airport and I-5 is underutilized, said Barry Broome, president of the Greater Sacramento Economic Council. The fact that Amazon saw the logistical advantage of the location should inspire others big companies, Broome said.

“This corridor is where the community really have a chance to build a high-tech play to scale,” Broome said.

Sacramento Supervisor Phil Serna called Aug. 10 a “remarkable day” and echoed Broome’s optimism that more business would soon join Amazon

“This is a tremendous opportunity for the entire region, not just Sacramento County,” Serna said.

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