Amazon Trials Tech To Replace Warehouse Packers
The automated system, reportedly being tested in the UK, could allow Amazon to phase out thousands of its warehouse staff.
Amazon is experimenting with deploying automated systems in its warehouses for boxing products into packages to be shipped, including in the UK, the company has acknowledged.
The news highlights Amazon’s ongoing drive to to ultimately build fully automated warehouses.
Amazon has deployed the CartonWrap technology from Italian firm CMC in a number of facilities, including one a short distance from Manchester, Reuters reported.
Others are near Seattle, Frankfurt, Milan, Amsterdam and elsewhere.
Such trials are controversial because the technology is inteneded to reduce the company’s reliance on human workers, and Amazon receives generous subsidies from governments due to its status as a major employer.
Amazon has one of the biggest pools of staff in the US, for instance.
The company downplayed the technology’s effect on staffing levels, saying it was focused on improving safety, delivery times and efficiency.
“We are piloting this new technology with the goal of increasing safety, speeding up delivery times and adding efficiency across our network,” Amazon said in a statement.
“We expect the efficiency savings will be re-invested in new services for customers, where new jobs will continue to be created.”
Amazon is considering deploying CartonWrap at dozens more warehouses, phasing out thousands of staff, but the plan reportedly hasn’t been approved as the company is still carrying out trials.
The $1 million (£770,000) system scans items and packs them into custom-made cardboard boxes for shipping.
It requires human staff to load items and to restock cardboard and glue, as well as an on-site technician to fix issues as they arrive.
When used with an envelope-packing technology called SmartPac, CartonWrap would allow five rows of workers at a warehouse to be reduced to two.
Amazon would reportedly seek to reduce staff numbers by not rehiring roles as employees leave, rather than by making layoffs.
CMC’s technology is reportedly used by JD.com, Shutterfly and Wal-Mart.
Last month at a tour of its Baltimore warehouse, the company said there was a misperception that it was close to being able to build a fully automated warehouse, saying that simple jobs such as picking up items of different sizes remain difficult for robotic systems.
But the firm is known for its drive toward automation, with its checkout-free supermarket Amazon Go being a notable example.
It also uses robots in some warehouses to carry items from shelves to the packing area.