OPERATIONS

Online giant to open a robotics-based warehouse in the U.K.

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Amazon is bolstering its presence in its third-largest market.

The online giant plans to open a new distribution center in Bolton, a city located in the North West section of England, in 2018. The new warehouse will be dedicated to supporting increasing customer demands, expand merchandise selections, and enable small and medium-sized businesses selling on Amazon Marketplace to scale their breadth, Amazon said.

To meet these needs, the new center will be equipped with advanced robotics technology provided by the company’s Amazon Robots division. The automated technology is designed to help lift and move products around the plant.

Amazon already has started recruiting for a range of new roles for the fulfillment center. These include operations managers, engineers, HR and IT specialists. It is also hiring a team who will work alongside the automated technology and pick, pack and ship customer items, such as books, toys and kitchenware, according to Amazon.

“Our ability to expand in the North West of England is the result of two things: incredible customers and an outstanding workforce,” said Stefano Perego, Amazon’s director of UK Customer Fulfillment. “We are thrilled to begin recruitment for 1,200 new permanent roles in Bolton with competitive wages and comprehensive benefits starting on day one.”

The warehouse is the fourth building planned for England’s North West section. Amazon opened a fulfillment center is Daventry in February, and construction is underway for facilities planned in the cities of Doncaster, Warrington and Tilbury. All four buildings expect to create more than 3,500 new permanent full time jobs.

England is Amazon’s third largest market outside of North America.

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OPERATIONS

Online giant embarks on holiday hiring spree

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Amazon is getting ready for the upcoming holiday rush.

The online giant will add 120,000 seasonal workers to ensure it can service shoppers during the holiday shopping season. This is the same amount as last year. New hires will fill positions across Amazon’s network of fulfillment centers, sortation centers and customer service sites operating across 33 states.

Among the roles that seasonal hires will fill include helping to pick, pack and ship customers’ holiday orders. They will work alongside more than 125,000 full-time employees who already fulfill these roles at more than 75 Amazon fulfillment centers across the country.

Last year, thousands of holiday workers transitioned into regular, full-time roles after the holidays, and Amazon expects to continue that trend this year.

“We prepare year round for the holidays and we’re excited to hire for over 120,000 positions this season to help delight our customers,” said Dave Clark, Amazon senior VP of global customer fulfillment. “We look forward to welcoming back holiday employees who return year-after-year to Amazon and welcome new faces to the team, many of whom will continue on with regular, full-time roles with the company after the holidays.”

Other retailers’ holiday hiring plans are also underway. Target announced it will hire approximately 100,000 employees for the upcoming holiday season, an increase of approximately 40%.

Macy’s will hire 80,000 holiday workers. However, this is a decrease from 83,000 last year.

Meanwhile, Walmart is once again bucking the holiday hiring trend. For the second year in a row, the discount giant plans to offer extra hours to its current associates. They will be trained for roles like cashier and stocker, and newly-created technology-empowered positions, such as personal shoppers and Pickup associates.

Kohl’s announced a similar strategy. The company plans to give additional hours to its current workforce — a group that it has been ramping up all year. While the company also plans to hire “some seasonal staff,” it is not revealing the specific number.

 

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OPERATIONS

Q&A: Boxed co-founder talks warehouse efficiency—via robotic automation

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Boxed is testing a new initiative to drive warehouse efficiency using automated driverless carts.

The e-retailer — which sells everyday essentials in bulk form at a discount — operates warehouses in Union (New Jersey), Dallas, Las Vegas, and Atlanta. Warehouse associates fulfill and ship orders that arrive on customers’ doorsteps within two days or less. However, the Union facility is the company’s only fully automated distribution center. Boxed’s other three warehouses support predominantly manual, time-consuming operations.

In a move to automate its picking and packing operations at the manual centers, Boxed has developed — and is testing — an autonomous guided vehicle (AGV) that is able to pick up and transport orders through its facilities. And early indications are that effort is paying off with efficiency gains and improved picking rates.

Boxed’s co-founder and CTO William Fong shared his thoughts about the initiative — and expectations — with Chain Store Age.

CSA: What is Boxed’s interest in robotics?

WF: Union is our one fully automated distribution center, outfitted with a state-of-the-art conveyor system. We want to try to replicate this efficiency at our three manual locations.

Our goal is to reduce costs by 10% and replicate efficiency within 80%. Rather than deploy miles of conveyors, this next iteration of efficiency will stem from robotics-based carts. However, the technology will solve the same issue: getting merchandise to our pickers versus making them walk to the merchandise.

CSA: What was the project’s inspiration?

WF: We are always thinking about how to make internal operations more efficient. Focusing on a solution that could streamline operations across our manual fulfillment centers was a natural extension of this goal.

That’s how we created what we call AGVs — automated guided vehicles. Leveraging our entrepreneurial spirit, the devices leverage software we developed using open source technology, and our robotics team created the hardware.

The AGV features an iPad, and comes to life with a Tesla battery that has between 15-20 hours of run time. Embedded sensors and a camera give it awareness of its surroundings and controls its movement around the warehouse.

CSA: How do they work?

WF: The AGV is programmed with artificial intelligence. It can recognize routes, paths and product labels, and understand physical obstacles. They are programmed to autonomously travel throughout the distribution center, navigate through other humans and carts, and pull over to pick up orders.

Once a customer order is accepted by our e-commerce platform, it is dispatched to our fulfillment software. The software is integrated within the robot and mapping software optimizes the best route for the unit to compile all of the ordered merchandise, and directs the AGV to move forward, backwards or perpendicularly.

Embedded sensors direct the devices to the correct pick zones, and QR code readers identify which pallets to stop at. The sensors also prompt the cart to stop roaming when it encounters a physical obstacle.

Each time the AGV makes a stop on the picking route, an associate in the aisle picks all the requested merchandise. They use the iPad to confirm the merchandise was picked, and the filled cart travels to the pack station where another associate boxes the order and places it on a truck for delivery.

CSA: How long does the picking process take?

WF: It depends on the order — and whether they are fulfilling more than one order. However, the AGV prototype is currently performing at a rate that we estimate has increased productivity by 80%.

CSA: How many AGVs are you currently using?

WF: Currently, we are using one prototype for order simulations in Union. This is helping us prepare to launch our first units in our Dallas warehouse by the end of the year, and we will scale up from there. At full deployment, we expect to be using between 30 and 40 devices in Dallas.

Our goal is to deploy an average of 40 AGVs in each manual distribution center, give or take, depending on the need in each location.

CSA: What is the long term goal?

WF: Our long-term vision is to extend the AGVs to other operations that can minimize walking for our associates. This could include replenishment, transportation of supplies, and working alongside humans to fulfill other roles in the warehouse. Overall, we believe that as the AGVs streamline operations, they will continue to decrease the distance that our associates need to walk.

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r.f says:
Oct-07-2017 04:41 pm

This story is amazing!

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