- Amazon is introducing packing robots to some of its facilities that will replace human employees, according to a report from Reuters, citing two unnamed sources. The "CartonWrap" system from Italian firm CMC can reportedly pack 600-700 packages per hour — four to five times the average rate of human packers.
- The robotic packing system would replace 24 workers in facilities that average around 2,000 workers, according to the report. Reuters puts the nationwide job cuts that could follow full implementation of robotic packing across Amazon's network at 1,300 jobs.
- An Amazon spokesperson confirmed the capability to Reuters, stating the technology is intended to increase safety, speed up delivery times and add efficiency across its network. Reuters sources said cost savings was the primary goal — at a cost of $1 million per machine, the new system would pay for itself in less than two years. The Amazon spokesperson called robotic packing a pilot.
Packing may be the next function for Amazon to automate, but it is far from the last. Scott Anderson, director of Amazon Robotics Fulfillment, told sister publication Supply Chain Dive last month the company is still at least 10 years away from a "lights out" facility — a warehouse that can run in the dark because there are no human workers.
Picking is a function that will require humans for some time, though the function is heavily tech-enabled.
"If you think about a picking manipulation arm to go into our existing bin structure and pull out a single unit with the same efficiency as what one of our associates can do right now, we’re 10 years away from being anywhere close to manipulate not just the product, but the three other products within that bin safely so we’re not damaging all of the other products while pulling out that one unit," Anderson told reporters on a recent tour of Amazon's Baltimore fulfillment center, which is an Amazon Robotics facility.
There are other functions at the beginning of the fulfillment process where technology is still unable to remove humans from the picture, too. Unpacking cases and boxes so that items can be staged for picking is still a process largely done by hand, though Amazon Robotics faculties have reduced the necessary human movement somewhat.
"I think there’s a variety of technology that’s come out, but it’s not close to where we need it," Anderson said.
Matt Leonard contributed to this report.