News 6 gets inside look at Amazon facility

What happens before and after you click 'buy'

By Tara Evans - Executive Producer

LAKELAND, Fla. - Amazon is the largest online retailer in the world -- and now, purchases you make that used to take days to show up at your door, sometimes now only take hours or even minutes.

So how does the company keep thousands of shipments straight from the moment you click "buy" to the moment that package is in your hands?

News 6 got an inside look at Amazon's Lakeland fulfillment center-- a massive building the size of 28 football fields.

It looks like a traditional warehouse with lots of items, pallets and conveyor belts, but there's one major difference -- robots and computers run the show here.

"Our system is smart enough to understand where all our inventory is on our robotics field," General Manager Robert Magarian said.



But first, Magarian said, of course, the items have to be shipped to the building.

Magarian said, of course, the items have to be shipped to the building.

"We have a team at Amazon that has that expertise on when to order specific items for this site just based on what they think people in Florida will order," Magarian said. "We don't get a lot of snow shovels in this building, as you can imagine."

Then, he said items have to get stowed in the robotics field before you can buy them. The robotics field is the main reason they're able to fulfill orders so fast. What they do is place items off the truck into towers to be stored until you buy them. But what you may not expect is, the items aren't stocked with other like items, they're placed at random into any tower that has space.

"The only thing he's doing is looking for space, and then once he scans the bin, the system knows where that item is," Magarian said, referring to an employee stowing newly arrived items. "When a customer orders an item, they're not ordering 50 of the same item, they're ordering a small kitchen appliance with maybe a box of coffee. It's best for us to have all of these items everywhere in our field."

If the items that need stocking are larger and already in-house, or are on large pallets, the "automated guided vehicle" or AGV brings the pallets to a large robot in the robo-stow area.

"Our robo-stow is a 6-ton machine, roughly the same as a male African elephant," Magarian said.

Since the system knows which tower every single item is stowed on, there's no issue finding what's needed when it's ordered. Those towers are driven around by 700-pound robots that travel five5 feet a second.
           
"The bots know exactly where they are at all times," Magarian said. "Once an item gets stowed into a bin, our system knows exactly where that item is and then if a customer orders that item, the system will know which tower to bring over to our picker."

The picker grabs the items you've purchased, and then it's time to pack up your purchase for the mail.

"We even incorporate our technology into the packing process," Magarian said. "So on the screen, it tells the associate which size box they need to pack the item in. It takes a lot of guesswork out of what they're doing and it also saves on material costs by us packing stuff into the smallest box possible. The associate also has a tape machine that when they hit the auto button on the tape machine, the system is smart enough to know what size piece of tape to spit out of the machine based off of the box recommendation. So once again, the associate does not have to make that decision and then we're also able to save on material costs because the associate is only getting what is needed to pack out that item."

What if there's no appropriately sized box? No problem.

"We're in Florida. A lot of our customers order fishing poles, some awkward-sized items that we may not have a standard box for," Magarian said. ”What this machine is able to do is measure the dimensions of that item and make a custom box. The dimensions of the item get scanned up in front there and all this information gets stored in the machine and then it knows what "size" or “shape" to make the box based on the order we scanned them."

Once they're packed, it's off on the conveyor belts once again for a final series of checks.

"Here is our, what we call SLAM, which is where a shipping label gets applied to a box," Magarian said. "So SLAM stands for scan, label, apply and manifest. The way this works (is), the scanner up at the top the scanner tunnel reads that bar code that the associate applied to that box. That box then travels onto a scale where it gets weighed. Our software is smart enough to know how big the item is and how much it weighs, so if there's any discrepancy between how much the system thinks the item should weigh and how much the box actually weighs, it will then kick out. But most of the time, a shipping label just gets applied to a box and then our takeaway takes it away to our shipping area where it then gets loaded onto a truck."

The conveyor belts know exactly which truck any package belongs on, so they get diverted to where they are supposed to go. An associate then comes along to make sure the trucks are being filled floor to ceiling to maximize space. Then, many boxes head off to local sort centers before finally making it off to their final destinations in one of 185 countries or one of the 50 states.

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