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TRACY — Area media and elected officials got a rare look inside Amazon’s fulfillment centers in Tracy and Patterson during their grand opening tours Tuesday. The Tracy facility, which has been in operation for nearly two years, has 1.2 million square feet of space and more than 1,500 full-time associates.
“If you lined up all of the infrastructure we have in this building, it would cover 59 football fields,” said Mike Roth, Amazon’s vice president for North American Operations. “There are a lot of things that you don’t necessarily see just by looking at the building.”
The Patterson facility is a similar size, but Amazon managers would only say there are “hundreds of associates.”
The Tracy facility handles the smaller items customers purchase that can be shipped quickly. The facility in Patterson handles some small items but also handles larger items such as big-screen TVs and outdoor barbecue grills.
“The infrastructure we have here is a little different than what we have in Patterson,” Roth said. “We have different kinds of production equipment. Here, we deal with the small, fast-moving items. In Patterson we deal with the bigger, slower moving products.”
In Patterson, Roth showed off the facility’s huge robotic arm that can lift up to six tons. Amazon associates voted to name it “Armazon.” (See video above)
The Patterson and Tracy facilities were also among the first 10 facilities in the United States to employ Kiva robots. The small orange robots glide across the floors carrying pods that are approximately four feet wide, seven feet tall and weigh up to 750 pounds. The pods take the products that have been ordered to an employee who then takes the item from the pod and puts it on a conveyor belt to be carried down the line where it is boxed, labeled and shipped. The robots also take in-bound products from employees who place the item in a pod which the robot carries to a location to be stored.
“We don’t store things like most facilities,” Roth said. “It looks random. You might have books with DVDs or house supplies. The system is about optimizing location. An algorithm determines where things are stored based on conditions like how often it is ordered.”
Roth said that in Patterson, tens of thousands of items leave the facility every day. Incoming items spend between a day and two weeks in the center.
The company uses 3,000 of the robots in Tracy. The robots navigate by scanning coded stickers on the floor, following digital commands that are beamed wirelessly from a central computer. The use of the robots allows items to be stored closer together, allowing the warehouse to hold more merchandise. The Tracy facility can hold more than 20 million items. The robots also save the human employees having to constantly run the miles of corridors to fetch items as they are ordered.
Despite the high level of automation, Amazon still depends largely on its human workers to actually package and ship the items customers order.
“Every time I come here, I have seen the dedicated associates that we have,” said Sanjay Shah, Amazon’s regional director. “We want provide great full-time jobs with great benefits.”
He said that one reason that the company held off on having a grand opening was the company’s desire to make sure the facility was running up to its capability.
“This is the eighth generation of fulfillment center,” Shah said. “We want to grow this building to its fullest capability. We have been humbled by the support we have had in Tracy.”
The city helped facilitate building the center through streamlining the permit and regulatory process.
“From start to having the building finished was less than a year,” said Tracy Mayor Michael Maciel. “We were able to sit down with Amazon and say what will make you succeed. This really was a win-win-win situation. We are thrilled to have (Amazon) here.”