A little over three years ago I visited the Catch.com.au warehouse and packing facility in Melbourne, and said at the time “I’ve never seen anything like it – and I don’t think I’ve seen anything more impressive either.” Well, now I have. The new Amazon warehouse and fulfilment centre in Sydney’s West is something to behold.
I went out on the premise of seeing the first Amazon Robotics site in the Southern Hemisphere, I left blown away by the sheer scale of the operation.
Sitting on a footprint the size of 24 football fields, this isn’t some little shed, it’s enormous. Four stories tall, soon to be packed with some 20 million items listed for sale at Amazon.com.au.
Now, even before you get to the Amazon Robotics part of all this – the physical building itself is impressive. While I’m sure years in the planning, the first construction began in June 2020. That’s just over a year ago. Factor in Covid delays and it’s remarkable if not ridiculous that a building of this scale and this quality is so close to completion.
The building itself certainly is, but the landscaping needs work, as does the signage, but most of all Amazon need to fit out another two floors of Robotic warehousing – all in the next few months.
Walking into the building, I wandered through what appeared to be lockers. Assuming this was also a public site for online shopping pickups? It is a robotic fulfilment centre after all?
Nope. Over 1,500 people will work here, including 130 or so from Amazon’s first fulfilment centre in Moorebank who have been promoted to the big leagues – the Robotics warehouse.
People you see, are the key to this whole operation. Yep, the robots play a critical role – I’ll get to that.
But it’s people who unpack the boxes that arrive from sellers, it’s people that load those things into buckets that travel part of the 14km of conveyer belts up to the robotic warehouse levels and it’s people who pick the items out of the box and put them into a pretty much random set of Pods awaiting someone to click Buy Now online.
Then it’s people who pick them out of the pods, sort them into seperate orders, and then more people who take the orders and box them up with your address on it.
At least four people will come into contact with your order after you click that button.
On the three warehouse levels, the entire centre area of the floorplan is fenced off – like a robot jail. If a hand reaches in alarms will sound and the small area around it shut down. It’s high tech security for the robots, offering safety for the staff.
The robots are not – as you might think, strange things that pick out items with metal arms.
No, the robots are more like the Robot Vacuum you might have in your home. They glide around the floor, taking instructions from a computer and using 38,000 QR code stickers on the floor to find their way.
They are sent to a location where a large pod is sitting, they lift the pod, then carry them to an Amazon staff member on the outer edge of the Robot Warehouse fence, where a simple yet intelligent system of projectors will shine a light on the pod in the very place the item will be, for the staff member to pick it, and send it off for packing.
These robots are constantly on the move, finding and sorting the pods and leaving them in the most efficient space and layout for the orders that are coming in.
It is a monumental space. Because these pods, or shelves of items are stacked so close together, much more can be squeezed into this space. Up to 50% more items on the same floor space.
Fit out still needs to happen on the robotic floors, as well as more testing, but Amazon hopes this site will be up and running by Easter next year.
That means more stuff, easily accessible by Amazon’s staff – and therefore closer to being delivered to you.
Mind blowing stuff.