KENT – Depending on where you are in Amazon’s Kent warehouse, customer orders move either above your head or below your feet.
With 18 miles of conveyor belts, millions of items in the warehouse at any one time, and a 24-hour operation, the workers inside are never far from the goods they help get to the customer doors.
Amazon opened the nearly one million square foot warehouse in 2016 — its fourth facility in Washington at the time — where workers pick, pack and ship small items, such as books and electronics. It is shaped like a “U”, with boxes of goods entering at one end of the letter and exiting as customers order from the other. In between, items pass through the warehouse on a journey that includes conveyor belts, autonomous robots, and, for some, a machine that will customize a box to fit its dimensions so perfectly that it doesn’t have to. almost no need for tape.
The Kent facility had its biggest day ever in December 2020, according to a banner hanging proudly above one of the loading docks stating that it shipped 1.2 million packages on December 18 this year- the.
Last March, the same facility was the subject of workplace safety concerns for the Washington Department of Labor.
The regulatory agency fined Amazon $60,000 for “deliberate” security violations. Amazon “failed to ensure employees had a workplace free of known hazards,” the Department of Labor and Industries wrote in its citation. Warehouse workers must lift, carry, pull, push, twist, bend and reach in combinations that “have caused and are likely to continue to cause” injury, he writes.
Because the department has cited Amazon for similar violations in the past at other Washington facilities, the company is aware of these dangers, officials said at the time, and “knowingly puts workers at risk.”
Amazon appealed the citation and said “we strongly disagree with [the] assertions and do not believe that they are supported by facts. Nearly six months after the citation was issued, he is still in the appeal process, according to a Labor Department spokesperson.
During a recent round in July, the warehouse was still processing orders for Amazon’s Prime Day, the annual two-day sale that has sold more than 300 million items this year.
Workers at the ‘U’ shaped building in Kent were beginning to see a divide between those feeling the pressure of Prime Day: workers at one end of the letter, where goods are brought into the facility from trailers , had completed preparing for Prime Day, unloading and storing items for customers to purchase. At the other end, where orders are packed into boxes for customers and shipped closer to their final destination, workers were still at the height of the shipping frenzy.
Amazon’s warehouse in Kent has 44,000 yellow bins used to move items around the warehouse and around 3,000 staff.
Trucks entering the building drop off items which will then be processed and stored, waiting for customers to click buy. Trucks coming out are filled with packages containing a customer’s order, whether it’s a single order or a combination.
Deliveries arrive at a pre-scheduled time, and Amazon has an algorithm that helps determine how long workers will need to load or unload each full truck.
Inside the warehouse, an item is ‘put away’, or scanned and placed in a yellow storage bin, then takes a spin on the ‘robotic super highway’ as Amazon’s autonomous robots move the items around. one worker to another. The highway is an area exclusively for robots that use a series of barcodes on the ground to navigate from one workstation to another.
Workers randomly arrange items to maximize efficiency and avoid a robotic traffic jam if popular items were grouped together.
The items then move through a network of containers and conveyors: from the yellow storage bin, into a yellow storage bin, onto a conveyor belt, into a package, onto a conveyor belt. The machines seal, scan, weigh and then address the boxes.
From there the packages make their way to a final ride on a conveyor belt where they are scanned (again) and sent down a long straight line. During the move, a gadget that Amazon calls a “shoe” will come out of the side of the conveyor belt and sweep the packages into chutes that deliver them to the appropriate truck.
In Kent, some orders are being redirected to a different set of conveyor belts where Amazon is testing new technology intended to reduce the amount of packaging used for each delivery. There, a machine scans goods as they roll down a conveyor belt, then constructs unique boxes to the dimensions of each item. It aims to reduce the amount of cardboard and tape needed to seal a box and the number of workers needed to get it out.
Amazon declined to say how many automated packaging machines it is testing or how much packaging it expects the machine to save.
More than a year after Washington workplace safety regulators began inspecting Amazon warehouses, federal regulators are also opening a civil investigation into working conditions at the company’s fulfillment centers. In July, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspected Amazon warehouses outside of New York, Chicago and Orlando, Florida.
Amazon warehouse workers work four days, three days off, for 10 hours at a time. A sign on the wall of the Kent distribution center reminds them that there is a limit of 58 hours to the work week.