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Inside an Amazon Warehouse

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the packing-it-up dept.

Businesses 206

redletterdave writes "In each one of Amazon.com's 80 fulfillment centers around the globe, Amazon relies on barcodes and human hands rather than robots or automation to find and ship the proper items in a quick and efficient manner. Without robots, Amazon utilizes a system known as 'chaotic storage,' where products are essentially shelved at random but are tagged with barcodes to be scanned at every step of the ordering, selection and shipping process. The real advantage to chaotic storage is that it's significantly more flexible than conventional storage systems. If there are big changes in a product range, the company doesn't need to plan for more space, because the products or their sales volumes don't need to be known or planned in advance if they're simply being stored at random. Free space is also better utilized in a chaotic storage system, and it's also a major time saver to not organize products as they come in. This system is the true key to Amazon.com's success in online retail."

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My desk isn't a mess! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139361)

I utilize a chaotic storage system.

Re:My desk isn't a mess! (0)

mrmeval (662166) | about 2 years ago | (#42139845)

I wrote a database to handle chaos storage around 1995. It was written in TAS+ with btrieve as the database. The person storing the stuff would hand enter the location plus checksum and the item code plus checksum as small handheld barcode scanners that would connect wirelessly were too expensive. The software would verify a valid location and item number were entered using the checksum. The database did more than that but it was DOS based and worked well. I quit the company and got a call begging me to go fix it two years after I left. The cheap ass wouldn't pay for half of my new car. ;)

Hmm... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139363)

It sounds like someone needs to run a defrag on those warehouses.

Re:Hmm... (4, Funny)

gagol (583737) | about 2 years ago | (#42139575)

Have you ever tried to get a teenager to defrag his room?

May be an interesting slide show... (4, Insightful)

wvmarle (1070040) | about 2 years ago | (#42139393)

May be nice if that site works with the latest Firefox, too... been a while since I had an issue with a site just not working.

Re:May be an interesting slide show... (1)

gagol (583737) | about 2 years ago | (#42139587)

Or chromium for that matter. Now it has "business" in its name, developers are probably restricted to ie6 because of their intranet ;-)

Re:May be an interesting slide show... (1)

temcat (873475) | about 2 years ago | (#42139695)

Doesn't work for me in Firefox 16.0.2, but works in Opera 12.10.

Update and it should work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139757)

Just did the upgrade from 16.0.2 to 17, and now it works.

Re:Update and it should work (1)

temcat (873475) | about 2 years ago | (#42139821)

Thanks for the info!

Re:May be an interesting slide show... (1)

blagooly (897225) | about 2 years ago | (#42140015)

IE9 fail. Crashed browser page. Twice. An excellent bad example, for the deciders to see. See also Cnet, Wired, The Verge. Good examples? Drudge, Instapundit, reddit. I suspect these companies have too many employees, a culture of change fed by sheer terror, and a long view that extends at least half way to next week.

ADHD girl (5, Funny)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 2 years ago | (#42139395)

My room is a disaster. My bed isn't made, nobody can find anything in here but me, and I have a couple bras right now hanging on the lamp to dry because there's nowhere else to put them. According to this article, I should be a major, successful retail vendor. So if that's true, instead of expecting me to be a billionaire or the President, my mom keeps telling me that at this point, she'd be happy if I'd just breed?

Re:ADHD girl (5, Funny)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 2 years ago | (#42139425)

Barcodes! You need barcodes!

Re:ADHD girl (4, Funny)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 2 years ago | (#42139445)

Barcodes! You need barcodes!

To breed? Jeez... I knew I was missing something obvious.

Re:ADHD girl (2)

smitty_one_each (243267) | about 2 years ago | (#42139711)

Has anybody ever told you that you are Secretary of State material?

Re:ADHD girl (3, Funny)

silentcoder (1241496) | about 2 years ago | (#42139997)

Breeding requires a male-to-female adaptor plug...

Re:ADHD girl (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139621)

I just need a bar, no code.

Re:ADHD girl (4, Funny)

sa1lnr (669048) | about 2 years ago | (#42139773)

Oh man, little do you know.

There's a veritable minefield of codes to navigate when it comes to women. :)

Re:ADHD girl (5, Funny)

flyingfsck (986395) | about 2 years ago | (#42139739)

You mean Bracodes...

Oh I so want that! (2)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | about 2 years ago | (#42139817)

Just imagine, a girl with all the bits labeled with barcodes so you can scan them and google the manual for it! And easily order replacement parts.

Re:Oh I so want that! (1)

Wolfraider (1065360) | about 2 years ago | (#42140393)

Just imagine, a girl with all the bits labeled with barcodes so you can scan them and google the manual for it! And easily order replacement parts.

And think of the upgrades you would be able to do :)

Re:ADHD girl (4, Funny)

jamesh (87723) | about 2 years ago | (#42139501)

my mom keeps telling me that at this point, she'd be happy if I'd just breed?

Just don't breed with a fellow geek or your kids are likely to turn out just like you, only more so. Just like us male geeks should be going for the prettiest, bimboest, bikini babes we can find, you should be going for a handsome jock who prefers grunts to words. Have fun with that ;)

I married for beauty rather than for brains... unfortunately she turned out to be just as geeky as me and as a result my oldest daughter is almost too nerdy to function :)

Re:ADHD girl (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139667)

Dude, I think you missed the "intraining" part of girlintraining. No problem with the gender identification issue, but girlintraining is never going to bear a child via "natural" means in his/her lifetime without some major advances.

Re:ADHD girl (1)

jamesh (87723) | about 2 years ago | (#42139765)

Dude, I think you missed the "intraining" part of girlintraining. No problem with the gender identification issue, but girlintraining is never going to bear a child via "natural" means in his/her lifetime without some major advances.

Didn't notice the username. I assumed the reference to a bra implied breasts which in turn implied the rest of the required biological capacity to bear children.

Re:ADHD girl (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42140499)

Dude, I think you missed the "intraining" part of girlintraining. No problem with the gender identification issue, but girlintraining is never going to bear a child via "natural" means in his/her lifetime without some major advances.

Didn't notice the username. I assumed the reference to a bra implied breasts which in turn implied the rest of the required biological capacity to bear children.

That would be intrainer.

Don't ever plan on getting old then. (2)

tebee (1280900) | about 2 years ago | (#42139529)

I use very much the same system in my room. Worked fine when I was young, had a brilliant memory and knew where everything was. Now I'm at the "get off my lawn" age, I forget where I put things within two minites of putting them down, Spend half my life looking for things.

Would get myself organised, but at my age the payback time is probably not worth the time spent doing it.

Re:Don't ever plan on getting old then. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139677)

Also forgot how to spell minutes :)

I also pretty much use the quasi-random organization technique. If I use it regularly, I know where it is. If I need it badly, I'll search for it. Other cases, demand the other party produce it.

Re:Don't ever plan on getting old then. (1)

tebee (1280900) | about 2 years ago | (#42139721)

Also forgot how to spell minutes :)

Na, never did know how to spell it, I'm an ex-programer and dyslexic - all the best programers are dyslexic :)

(and I had to look up to see if dysleic was spelt with a i or a y !)

Re:Don't ever plan on getting old then. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42140019)

(and I had to look up to see if dysleic was spelt with a i or a y !)

Both, but also with an 'x'.

Re:Don't ever plan on getting old then. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139733)

The problem for me started when I switched from having "my room" to having "my house" and sharing it someone else who also calls it that, with every right. And this someone else also spends more time there than I do, and likes to rearrange "my stuff" ...so ...yeah

Re:ADHD girl (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139541)

...just breed?

Your ideas intrigue me and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter! :D

Re:ADHD girl (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139593)

Girl your training is going bad. This is not a place to find a breeding mate. Listen your breeding adviser; she knows how to do it.

Re:ADHD girl (4, Funny)

jones_supa (887896) | about 2 years ago | (#42139635)

My room is a disaster. My bed isn't made, nobody can find anything in here but me, and I have a couple bras right now hanging on the lamp to dry because there's nowhere else to put them. According to this article, I should be a major, successful retail vendor.

Correlation is not causation!

The Hitmans. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139689)

Missing the barcodes man.

In order to be successful, you must become the Hitmans. Eliminate everyone who disagrees with you.

Re:ADHD girl (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139735)

gee - are you blonde, 36-24-36 material ? :D

Re:ADHD girl (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139743)

Randomness of locations isn't a problem as long as you make a database or a hashtable so you can quickly find things. If you have actually implemented a hashtable to document the locations of your belongings (which would be easier with barcodes or RFID chips), then yes you should consider becoming a retail vendor, or at least working for a company to optimize their logistics.

Okay, what I just said isn't 100% true. For an actual warehouse or dirty bedroom, you will still want to have some optimization algorithms to make the physical effort of reaching high demand items the lowest possible value (i.e. keep the Justin Bieber CDs next to the shipping area or your CD player*).

* Just kidding, I hope

Re:ADHD girl (1)

somersault (912633) | about 2 years ago | (#42140373)

If you have actually implemented a hashtable to document the locations of your belongings

I have, it's called my memory. Of course if the data isn't refreshed every so often, it can become corrupt.

Walmart do the same (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139403)

If you've ever worked at Wallmart or I guess any of the other major supermarkets, they do the same thing. Store stuff whereever and track where it is. So it might be organized on the computer, but in the storerooms its real-world location bears no relation to it's computerized structure.

Again for the same reason, seasonality and holidays etc. mean the sales are not constants and stocks of different items vary, and with small space at the supermarket for storage, it doesn't make sense to dedicate empty space to storing *potential* stuff.

But hey, perhaps Bezo's plans to patent it, like one click ordering. So he's pretending it's a new thing.

FOSS Inventory management recomendations (0)

yurik (160101) | about 2 years ago | (#42139405)

A friend of mine has a small business selling specialized shoes, and needs a new inventory system. Quickbooks just doesn't cut the load and such large inventories. Ideally, it should be an open source solution, either LAN or web-based, with very comprehensive inventory management and customer relationship management, barcode reading/printing, possibly unique ID (serial number) generation, and ideally some accounting/quickbooks integration.

Has anyone dealt with such systems? Any recomendations? Many thanks.

Re:FOSS Inventory management recomendations (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 2 years ago | (#42139427)

A friend of mine has a small business selling specialized shoes...Has anyone dealt with such systems? Any recomendations? Many thanks.

Have you given Bundy a try?

Re:FOSS Inventory management recomendations (1)

yurik (160101) | about 2 years ago | (#42139463)

Could you give a link? I couldn't find it. Thanks!

Re:FOSS Inventory management recomendations (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139701)

Could you give a link? I couldn't find it. Thanks!

http://www.bundabergrum.com.au/ [bundabergrum.com.au] but you might find it makes you break out in handcuffs.

Re:FOSS Inventory management recomendations (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 2 years ago | (#42139649)

A friend of mine has a small business selling specialized shoes, and needs a new inventory system. Quickbooks just doesn't cut the load and such large inventories. Ideally, it should be an open source solution, either LAN or web-based, with very comprehensive inventory management and customer relationship management, barcode reading/printing, possibly unique ID (serial number) generation, and ideally some accounting/quickbooks integration.

I don't see what your friend would benefit from open source in this case. How about Microsoft Dynamics NAV?

Re:FOSS Inventory management recomendations (1)

peragrin (659227) | about 2 years ago | (#42140173)

are you trying to rive them insane.

It is a horrible product if your trying to run a company from it. it's idea of Point of Sale is a piece of shit.

let alone the inventory management sucks

oh and the accounting end is ass backwards. we end up doing everything twice simply because that is how the system was designed.

Microsoft products with the quality and abilities to squirt to brown bricks of uselessness.

He needs to break down and get a real POS/Inventory system.

Humans? (2)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about 2 years ago | (#42139409)

So, Amazon is refusing to invest in robots to do this repetitive work? Instead, they employ humans to perform mind-numbing running all over the place to fetch products and fill shipping boxes. Don't you think a company of Amazon's size should spend some of those billions on some modern industrial robots so that the humans can get a rest?

Re:Humans? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139461)

So, Amazon is refusing to invest in robots to do this repetitive work? Instead, they employ humans to perform mind-numbing running all over the place to fetch products and fill shipping boxes. Don't you think a company of Amazon's size should spend some of those billions on some modern industrial robots so that the humans can get a rest?

Ah,
why invest in robots when you can pay agencies ££ to hire your staff for you, and then pay the poor sods doing the product 'fulfilment' a pittance and both the Amazon and agency staff get to treat these poor sods like shit?
The great thing about meatbags, you can hire'n'fire them quite easily.

Re:Humans? (5, Informative)

Ozeroc (1146595) | about 2 years ago | (#42139509)

Yeah, I've read that fulfulment warehouses are a terrible place to work: http://www.alternet.org/story/154344/what_happened_when_i_got_a_job_at_a_soul-crushing%2C_abusive_warehouse [alternet.org]

Re:Humans? (1)

uncqual (836337) | about 2 years ago | (#42139713)

Exactly why they should be replaced with computers and robots as much as possible. Then the workers can go on welfare (or, actually teach their brood that education is the MOST important thing and hope their kids will support them in their old age and stop creating more offspring).

Re:Humans? (2)

Coriolis (110923) | about 2 years ago | (#42139783)

Or you could actually read the article that link points to and discover that your prejudices are incorrect. Educated people end up in these jobs too.

Re:Humans? (5, Informative)

TheLink (130905) | about 2 years ago | (#42139519)

Not true. They bought Kiva. It probably takes a while before they work out the changes needed and roll that out.

As for humans getting rest, in many countries if you end up without a job and are not in the "ruling caste" the rest of the people don't seem to think you deserve to get any $$$$ for "resting" aka "doing nothing productive".

Careful for what you ask for, you may get it.

Re:Humans? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139619)

I worked fulfilment for a while in a Scottish plant. If you go at it with the right mindset it's quite good fun (it's almost video-gamey). Lots of folk hated it too, though.

Re:Humans? (4, Interesting)

uncqual (836337) | about 2 years ago | (#42139703)

As others have noted, Amazon purchased Zappos which utilizes Kiva in their warehouses. I expect Amazon to adapt Zappos models more than Amazon to migrate Zappos to their model. Every time a robot/computer replaces a human (been going on for 40 years), the fractional replacement human is a high skilled person than the multiple people they replaced. Think stocking -- the programmer costs a lot more and requires a lot more education than the human picker -- but the programmer's work can be deployed without limitations to service 6 billion people (and more later).

The first world societies have to understand real soon that they need to figure out what to do with the jobless masses with IQs under 110 in fifty years. The answer can't be "pay them to breed more crack babies", the answer has to be "each generation values breeding less and eduction more" - or expect their economy to sink under the economic sea like most of the PIGS probably will.

Re:Humans? (1)

uncqual (836337) | about 2 years ago | (#42139719)

(Replying to my own post - I know, poor form!)

And, of course, Amazon eventually acquired Kiva which is a strong hint that what I said in my post is likely to be their goal.

Re:Humans? (1)

DarkOx (621550) | about 2 years ago | (#42140383)

Easy, get rid of the earned income tax credit and make failure to file and or pay a capital crime for persons over 18. We have just have them all lined up an shot on April 16th. It will even broaden the base!

Seriously though it is a real problem and there is a total leadership vacuum around the issue. The whole "winning the future" thing misses the point. We can invest all we want in education but there is still going to be an ever growing segment of the population who simply lack the innate talent to be more productive than our machines. It won't matter how many years we send trying to cram their wetware full of facts and condition it to use certain problem solving strategies.

Honestly I think this is real problem society faces and its manifesting it self in ways that we are treating like problems today; which are really only symptoms. Its like the myth of pay gap. Its not that CEO has become more greedy in fact if you look at total cost of compensation, including perks and expense, CEO pay vs other employees has actually gone DOWN over 25 years. Its just that the average wage has spread. Why because machines replaced the bottom rung of white collar workers first.

Those workers made more than blue collar folks because you did have to have some training to do basic accounting work. Now the ERP system and handful of accountants does the work a whole department once did on paper. The robots have actually been the harder part of automation.

Doing what carbon paper and an adding machine did with automation was easy, replicating the human hand much harder, but that domino is falling. When people are not needed to stock shelves or fry burgers we are in real trouble. Really I anticipate cleaning the last thing to be automated.

Re:Humans? (1)

silentcoder (1241496) | about 2 years ago | (#42140023)

>Don't you think a company of Amazon's size should spend some of those billions on some modern industrial robots so that the humans can get a rest?

How many humans whose last job was "stacked boxes in a wharehouse" would be able to feed themselves and their families if they did that ?

It may or may not make business sense - but pretending that mass layoffs is somehow humanitarian is a new level of low.

Re:Humans? (1)

DarkOx (621550) | about 2 years ago | (#42140331)

No, because then you'd be angry at them for killing jobs. Everyone knows that big companies will be vilified no matter what they do. So it really only makes sense for them to do whatever is most economical.

If the general public actually had the intellect to rival our poo flinging primate cousins; than maybe there would be hope for corporate responsibility but as it stands companies like Amazon and lately even Google can't be win in the court of public opinion no matter what they do so they may as well just "be evil".

Re:Humans? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42140389)

Rest? You mean unemployed

Sounds similar to a certain filesystem... (1)

Twinbee (767046) | about 2 years ago | (#42139415)

We could learn off Amazon for our own computer file systems. A metadata/database filesystem where everything is stored all in one folder (rather than organized into directories) would save everyone so much time. The barcode would be replaced by 'tags' or metadata. Popular and recent tags could be accessible via a dropdown. Hunting for files, reorganization, deciding where to store files, becomes suddenly much easier.

More info:
http://www.skytopia.com/project/articles/filesystem.html [skytopia.com]
http://fishbowl.pastiche.org/2003/01/19/filesystem_sacrilege/ [pastiche.org]
http://dbfs.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net]

Re:Sounds similar to a certain filesystem... (2)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 2 years ago | (#42139457)

Why do that, when you can have an organized directory structure and searchable file tags [wikipedia.org] ? The two aren't mutually exclusive, you know.

Re:Sounds similar to a certain filesystem... (1)

Twinbee (767046) | about 2 years ago | (#42139605)

As others have said before, you can emulate folders with a metadata system anyway. Having actual folders on TOP of that is a kludge.

Besides that minor issue, Microsoft isn't exactly encouraging people to use virtual folders (and do third-party programs allow you to save metadata when saving files?). Does it utilize a realtime filterable window like Everything [voidtools.com] , where you can search for something in an instant based on the metadata they contain? I very much doubt it. That's a vital part of the tech if a metadata system is to become standard.

I was thinking of something which was designed completely from the ground up to fully support a metadata filesystem, and where actual folders were an 'extra' if implemented at all (since they can be emulated perfectly). Explorer windows become extinct and are replaced by a powerful filterable window which lists any and all files in realtime.

Re:Sounds similar to a certain filesystem... (1)

zyzko (6739) | about 2 years ago | (#42140067)

Well, the company I work for does just that (I won't mention the name but it is easy enough to find...) minus the realtime filtering (we kind of have that on some properties but not the way Everything does it, at least not yet) - you have to click the search button to get filtered results (it searches metadata and file contents, quick search) or you can build your own search down to the very finest specification and these can be saved as views, and everything (including permissions!) are driven by the metadata. We have "traditional folder" support built on top of that for scenarios where a program expects a traditional folder structure (several CAD / CAM software do require this).

To the application this is completely transparent, it just sees a drive letter and saving and opening works nicely, our filesystem driver provides paths to files so that applications don't need to be aware that they are not working with a traditional filesystem. It is actually pretty neat and allows modeling of real-world structures intuitively, not just files. For an example if your document is related to a customer you soon end up modeling the customers as separate objects, and bam, there you got yourself a lightweight CRM system out of the box...

Re:Sounds similar to a certain filesystem... (1)

Twinbee (767046) | about 2 years ago | (#42140247)

Sounds great. Did your company build the filesystem or did you get it off the shelf?

Re:Sounds similar to a certain filesystem... (1)

zyzko (6739) | about 2 years ago | (#42140265)

It is completely in-house project. We have various parts that are off the self components in the product like OCR and a few other pieces but the filesystem stuff is 100% our code.

Re:Sounds similar to a certain filesystem... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42140081)

One could implement a metadata/tagging based filesystem, and still be compatible with legacy apps which expect filenames and folders. Save a file to: "/images/me/2012-11-20/peanuts.jpg", and you extract the tags/labels from the path: "images", "me", "2012-11-20" and "peanuts".

Re:Sounds similar to a certain internet (1)

tebee (1280900) | about 2 years ago | (#42139513)

Don't we have something called the world wide web that's a bit like that now?

Re:Sounds similar to a certain filesystem... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139599)

I was thinking WAFL [wikipedia.org] when I read the description.

Re:Sounds similar to a certain filesystem... (2)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about 2 years ago | (#42139753)

It works for email. I get rather a lot of it and I have stopped filing it in neat little folders; instead all mail goes into an "archive" folder. Some time management methods like GTD recommend this: do not waste too much time on filing stuff, just throw it on the pile and rely on search to find it later.

... yeah, real nice. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139453)

Amazon warehouse jobs push workers to physical limit
http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2017901782_amazonwarehouse04.html

I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave
http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/02/mac-mcclelland-free-online-shipping-warehouses-labor

Humans vs. Robots (4, Interesting)

gentryx (759438) | about 2 years ago | (#42139515)

Chaotic storage works because the barcode of each shelved item is scanned together with the barcode of its shelve, so that the computer can later on tell the humans where to find the stuff for a certain order.

Apparently there is no reason why this wouldn't work with robots. Apparently robots are still to expensive or not smart (in terms of physical skills) enough.I wonder when we'll see Amazon experimenting with robots.

Re:Humans vs. Robots (5, Insightful)

wvmarle (1070040) | about 2 years ago | (#42139629)

It's likely mostly the physical skill of opening a wrapper and taking a book out of it. Or worse, some odd shaped item. That's stuck in the tight wrapper.

The first (and only photo visible to me) on that that site showed a bunch of shipping pallets aligned haphazardly with cartons stacked on top of them. Assuming one item per pallet, you go find the pallet (easy), then find which carton is currently open already (harder), then manouvre your arms and hands to take an item out of the carton (that's the tough one - especially the getting your fingers around it part), and place it in your shopping trolley or whatever they use there (easy again).

Finding and scanning bar codes may also be tricky, as they're likely not on fixed locations.

Current robots work where a blind man could work. They are as good as blind, after all. And need to know exactly where to find a product, and how to take one and only one. That's not easy with all those odd shaped, and constantly changing products.

Re:Humans vs. Robots (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139669)

That depends on the goods you're trying to handle. If they are big enough - pallets, for example - you just need a forklift truck with a guidance system thats plugged into a database. I worked for a company that did the database part of such systems back in 1995.

Re:Humans vs. Robots (1)

ByteSlicer (735276) | about 2 years ago | (#42140407)

They sure seem to be treating humans as robots [motherjones.com] already. And yes, the humans are cheaper to operate.

Re:Humans vs. Robots (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42140511)

One disadvantage of robots is that they don't scale as well as humans, they work at full speed the whole time. During busy periods it is more cost effective for Amazon to add more warehouse workers and get more throughput than to try to add more robots that aren't needed for most of the time

Defragmenting (1)

Sven Jacobs (1385749) | about 2 years ago | (#42139535)

So Amazon is defragmenting their fulfillment centers :-)

Not all roses... (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139549)

I work in a fulfilment centre myself, and i can say that while the storage is very efficient, as mentioned, the algorithms that rout pickers to collect the various items leave a lot to be desired. Its all well and good having ingenious storage systems, but if you have to spend 2 minutes walking to a particular shelf location to collect item X passing 8 different bins containing item X along the way, it wastes huge amounts of time and effort. For example, our fulfilment centre is LOSING $250000 due simply to pick-routing inefficiencies...

Re:Not all roses... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139553)

*I meant to say $250,000 per WEEK

Re:Not all roses... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139877)

I think all the money lost in a single week could efficiently be spent to study good routing algorithms, isn't it?

Re:Not all roses... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139853)

The reason you have to go to a particular bin is that the company likely runs a FIFO inventory system, so they want you to pick the oldest items first. There are various good reasons to do this (we do it too in normal manufacturing inventory).

Re:Not all roses... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42140205)

There is a formula for computing optimum results. Operations Research.
IF it was optimum, it would either ask you to move it, OR place new stock in a better location.
The math I am familiar is is paging - LRU, TTL, MFU page stealing etc.

And you have to balance cost of storage against cheap ass pittance they pay pickers, and the bribes lorries will pay unload fast.

I suspect they have outsourced the picking operation, and they believe some crap about most efficient and computer etc, and ignore the people who do the job, or the reasons stock tends to gyrate to particular positions. Such as OH&S or truck arriving at the same time due to freeway congestion.

Amazon SHOULD be able to afford a specialist to determine the cause and maximize outcomes. If they don't know the cause by now, they deserve the outcome.

Re:Not all roses... (2)

necro81 (917438) | about 2 years ago | (#42140459)

"Shortest Route" algorithms, such as the traveling salesman problem [wikipedia.org] , are extremely difficult. Sometimes humans can intuit a better solution, but only when the number of spots to hit is small. For a warehouse with millions of items not already organized, it's impossible for a human. The best you can hope for without throwing using every computer on the planet is an approximate solution, which again for large datasets isn't really guaranteed to be all that good.

true key (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139559)

>This system is the true key to Amazon.com's success in online retail.

I always believed it was the fact they didn't make any profits during at least 7 years (from 1994 to >2001. This is a very long time loosing money but suffisient to kill any concurrency.

Breaking News From 2107 (4, Funny)

smitty_one_each (243267) | about 2 years ago | (#42139749)

Amazon announces that, after a century of tweaking about, they have arrived at a self-replicating fulfillment warehouse system.
Everything is on 23 pairs of rows. The tips of the 23 rows of two warehouses break off intermittently, and circulate freely on the roadways disguised as traffic.
If any two sets of 23 show up in a fulfillment center parking lot and collide, a new fulfillment center is 'conceived', and 'gestates' for a few seasons before making a the shortest possible journey to a new location, where it starts doin' its thang'. A shocking amount of the row storage is metadata, such that a warehouse query fails outright or returns a product at roughly ludicrous speed. "Yeah, it's kind of a b-tree on Brawndo," said Dr. Joey "TT" Torvalds-Tridgell, the 800lb Brain of Amazon.
In other news, Walmart President Sanger is seeking to legalize the abortion of this burgeoning threat, saying that wanton murder, too, is a form of capitalism.

How can this work? (2)

ShooterNeo (555040) | about 2 years ago | (#42139769)

Since there's no organizational scheme, I assume that the human workers have to be told turn by turn where to go? That for anything but an item that they picked up recently, a human worker would need to be told where exactly to go to pick up the nearest item X. And even if one of the human workers did remember the last place they saw X, that spot probably is not the closest instance of X. This kind of storage scheme means that the human workers are simply meat waldos serving the computer software that runs the place.

Re:How can this work? (1)

cripkd (709136) | about 2 years ago | (#42139801)

And? Human, you make it sound as if you're not happy with your future role!

It works great (5, Interesting)

sjbe (173966) | about 2 years ago | (#42140391)

Since there's no organizational scheme, I assume that the human workers have to be told turn by turn where to go?

There is an organizational scheme, it's just not by by product and workers will be told where to go regardless of what storage system the company uses. I implemented a version of this about 10 years ago in our warehouse for an auction company I owned. Basically you build a warehouse with identifiers on the shelving system. Then you assign a random and (this is the important bit) uniformly distributed code to each box/pallet/SKU that you store. You can't tell where a product is by the product, you have to look up the location in the computer but after that it's easy to find. This system works really well when you have a wide array of rapidly changing merchandise that you can't predict arrival times or quantities for. Amazon would be a great fit for a warehousing system like this.

This kind of storage scheme means that the human workers are simply meat waldos serving the computer software that runs the place.

That's true for pretty much all warehouses regardless of organizational scheme. Once you get to a warehouse of any size you have to have a computer to direct where to find merchandise to pick to an order. Even if the worker knows where to get it they still will need direction from the computer on quantities to pick.

Re:How can this work? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42140463)

You think this is bad ? Then take a look at the future: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWY8uFlteIM [youtube.com]

Now that is a meat waldo.

Re:How can this work? (1)

DarkOx (621550) | about 2 years ago | (#42140483)

This kind of storage scheme means that the human workers are simply meat waldos serving the computer software that runs the place.

Before that they simply served the warehouse manager with his ledger. I think you over stating impact this has on the job role of they typical picker.

I'm next! (1)

cripkd (709136) | about 2 years ago | (#42139819)

OMG, so THIS is the real secret of Amazon's success, and now it's out? I've just bought Nile.com so watch out Bezos!

chaos? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 2 years ago | (#42139867)

Chaos was the cool thing back in the 90s, amirite?

I actually read this as (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42139991)

"Inside amazing whorehouse"

They've been doing this since the beginning (1)

sirwired (27582) | about 2 years ago | (#42140145)

They've been doing "random shelving" of their items since their very first fulfillment center that wasn't Jeff Bezos's garage. It isn't particularly new, revolutionary, or a big secret.

Re:They've been doing this since the beginning (1)

TwentyCharsIsNotEnou (1255582) | about 2 years ago | (#42140349)

It's still interesting. And, at least to me, new.
Maybe you should read this: http://xkcd.com/1053/ [xkcd.com]

Is this really news? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42140221)

This is an old and proven way to manage shelf space in a warehouse. This is no news and whoever wrote this article doesn't know much about logistics...

True key to success (4, Insightful)

agentgonzo (1026204) | about 2 years ago | (#42140241)

"This system is the true key to Amazon.com's success in online retail". That, and not paying any tax.

Re:True key to success (1)

tfocker4 (2750497) | about 2 years ago | (#42140427)

Aww man, that's what I was gonna sayyyyyy!

Barcode bugger-ups: big problem. (4, Interesting)

Bieeanda (961632) | about 2 years ago | (#42140259)

A few years back, someone ordered a book for me from Amazon. The package arrived as normal, but it was a completely different book inside, and one that I already had. So the sender got in touch with Amazon, the order was double-checked, and after some back and forth they sent a new package out.

The second package had the same book in it.

So did the third.

It turns out that for some reason, possibly because they were part of the same product line, these two books were assigned the same Amazon-internal barcode. Because of this I never got the book that was ordered, but instead ended with two copies of the book that was mistakenly sent, and a credit for the cost of the original order.

What might have been an easily remedied issue, had storage followed a logical pattern and the fulfillment person given enough autonomy to detect and solve the problem, ended up taking months to get to the bottom of.

Fuck Slideshows (1)

wadeal (884828) | about 2 years ago | (#42140361)

The next button is broken on the page via Chrome - can't view any other photos.

But then why would I want to see a slideshow of photos that don't even take up a quarter of my screen? And I'm only running 24 inches - do these sites get how stupid they present this information?

Two Day Shipping Prime (1)

helix2301 (1105613) | about 2 years ago | (#42140497)

I know Amazon has take some great strikes in the shipping aspect of prime. They have warehouses just for staging then they have warehouses all around the world the Prime Shipping is great but it was a major under taking in the fulfillment center part of there operation.

flash drive (1)

mapkinase (958129) | about 2 years ago | (#42140521)

So Amazon storage works as a flash drive.

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