Retail Connections took at whistlestop tour of Amazon’s state-of-the-art fulfilment centre this week (23 January 2020). We were guided around the site by Amazon ‘Tour Ambassadors’ Lee and Paul, and witnessed first-hand how robots and humans are working in tandem to meet customer demand for ever-faster deliveries.
- It’s a monster! The vast building at Tilbury, Essex is Amazon’s largest fulfilment centre (FC) in the UK – 2 million sq ft – the size of 28 football pitches.
2. It’s the second largest Amazon fulfilment centre in the world, second only to a 2.3m sq ft centre in the US.
3, The Tilbury depot is named LCY2 after London City Airport – all Amazon fulfilment centres are named after the closest airport.
4. The building opened in September 2017 and employs 4,000 members of staff with numbers going up significantly for the peaks of Black Friday and Christmas.
5. Amazon claims more humans are employed in its growing number of robotics-enabled fulfilment centres as processing of orders is so much faster, requiring more people alongside the robots. In contrast half the number of associates – around 2,000 – work at each of the older FCs.
6. Employees are responsible for five basic tasks: unpacking and inspecting incoming goods; placing goods in storage stacks; picking goods that are brought to pickers by the robot-enabled stacks; sorting and packing orders; and shipping.
7. The retailer claims that the robotics-enabled FCs are three times more efficient and 20% faster than the traditional, less high tech FCs.
8. The record time from a customer clicking ‘buy’ online, to the order being ready to ship in this fulfilment centre is 15 minutes. The slowest is one hour.
9. This is one of the most modern Amazon FCs – making use of 6,000 Kiva robots that move 48,000 stacks of inventory – known as pods – around several enormous picking fields.
10. Each individual Kiva robot can support a pod packed with products weighing up to 22 stone or 140 kg.
11. They cost the same as a small car – around £10,000 each – but Amazon says the cost savings they bring make this a worthwhile investment.
12. The now-familiar looking orange Kiva robots use QR codes pasted on the floor to navigate. Cameras mounted on the bodies of the drives prevent any accidental collisions. The moving pods are caged in for safety.
13. For efficiency reasons, the system here is ‘random stow’ and ‘random pick’ meaning inventory of one item – say a packet of batteries – is dotted around the storage area in several locations, rather than all kept together.
14. At Tilbury the set up is for smaller items to be delivered – such as toys, books, cosmetics, clothing, footwear and small electricals. Amazon’s Doncaster site specialises in heavier items, requiring fork lift trucks rather than robots to move product to pickers.
15. Inventory on the site is 60% owned by small vendors, and 40% owned by Amazon.
16. New employees at Tilbury are trained for four days before beginning work on the FC floor.
17. The site operates 24 hours a day, making use of a day and night shift so that next day and same day deliveries are possible.
18. LCY2 generates its own power using an on-site generator and solar panels on the roof. This means that if there is a power cut locally, Amazon orders can still be fulfilled.
19. There’s a team of cleaners working here all the time.
20. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has never been to Tilbury.
Read about Amazon’s Kiva robots in our special report here.