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05/05/2023

Amazon opens new robotic fulfillment center

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Amazon fulfillment center
Amazon is increasing the use of robotics in its fulfillment centers.

Amazon’s latest state-of-the-art supply chain facility is located in southern New England.

The e-tail giant is opening a fulfillment center in Windsor, Conn., equipped with advanced robotics technology. The 3.8.-million-square-foot facility began processing and delivering customer orders starting in November 2022, and will eventually employ more than 2,000 workers;

At this facility, employees pick, pack and ship smaller customer items such as books, electronics, small household goods and toys.

“We’re thrilled to officially open our next-generation Amazon Robotic fulfillment center here in Windsor so we can continue to deliver for our customers in Connecticut and beyond,” said Gurol Butun, GM at the Windsor Amazon facility. “Not only are we bringing good jobs to this area, the team here is already giving back by supporting great projects and organizations in our community. It’s a privilege to lead this team and create a safe, engaging, and fun workplace that allows our employees to flourish.”

Reorganizing the U.S. fulfillment network

Until recently, Amazon operated one national U.S. fulfillment network that distributed inventory from fulfillment centers spread across the entire country. If a local fulfillment center didn’t have the product a customer ordered, Amazon would ship it from other parts of the country, costing more and increasing delivery times.

As Amazon’s fulfillment network expanded to hundreds of additional nodes over the last few years, distributing inventory across more locations and connecting the central fulfillment center to it delivery station nodes became more challenging.

In 2022, Amazon started moving from a national fulfillment network to a regionalized network model. This included upgrading placement and logistics software, processes, and physical operations to create eight interconnected regions in smaller geographic areas.

Each of these regions can operate in a self-sufficient way, while still being able to ship nationally when necessary. Amazon is also continuing to develop advanced machine learning algorithms to better predict what customers in various parts of the country will need, so that it has the right inventory in the right regions at the right time.

Amazon automates the supply chain

Amazon has already been employing more than a dozen types of robotic systems in its supply chain facilities around the world, including sort centers and air hubs. In June 2022, Amazon announced “Proteus,” its first fully autonomous mobile robot. Proteus moves autonomously through Amazon’s fulfillment and sort facilities using advanced safety, perception, and navigation technology developed by Amazon.

Amazon also introduced Cardinal, a robotic lifting arm that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision to efficiently select one package out of a pile of packages, lift it, read the label, and precisely place it in a cart.

In addition, to reduce the need for employees to reach up, bend down, or climb ladders when retrieving items, the company is developing a robotic Containerized Storage System designed to deliver products to employees in a more ergonomic manner. The solution determines which pod has the container with the needed product, where that container is located in the pod, how to grab and pull the container to the employee, and how to pick it up once the employee has retrieved the product.

More recently, the retailer acquired Belgium-based Cloostermans, which designs and manufactures mechatronics solutions, robotic technology that Amazon will use to help move and stack heavy palettes and totes, or package products together for customer delivery. The company is also testing next-generation robots that use artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision to roam freely throughout fulfillment centers; and is  rolling out “Sparrow,” an intelligent robotic system that can detect, select, and handle individual products in its inventory.

In other efforts to streamline fulfillment, Amazon is s researching how to automate inventory identification using multimodal identification, or MMID, which would eliminate the need for barcodes in its supply chain.