Amazon is rolling out machines that could automate boxing up orders across the company’s network of warehouses and phase out humans doing that work today.
Reuters reported that Amazon has in recent years put these machines in some warehouses, including locations near Seattle. The company is considering outfitting dozens more fulfillment centers with a pair of these machines, which are built by Italian firm CMC and pack boxes faster than humans can. Citing people familiar with the plans, which have not been finalized, Reuters reports that each machine could replace 24 jobs a piece, amounting to 1,300 roles across 55 U.S. warehouses that could become automated.
The machines, which are also used by competing retailers such as Walmart, JD.com and Shutterfly, scan items coming down conveyor belts and then seconds later packs them into customized boxes. Reuters reports that each machine requires someone to put orders on the belt, another person to stock it with cardboard and glue and a technician to fix any jams.
Amazon issued the following statement about the project:
“We are piloting this new technology with the goal of increasing safety, speeding up delivery times, and adding efficiency across our network. We expect the efficiency savings will be re-invested in new services for customers, where new jobs will continue to be created.”
Amazon has spent billions of dollars outfitting its warehouses with robots and other automated tools to speed up its shipping process and reduce costs. It spent $775 million on the acquisition of robotics company Kiva Systems in 2012. Last month, the company acquired Canvas Technology, a Boulder, Colo., robotics company that powers autonomous vehicles in industrial settings.
Amazon has consistently said it wants humans and machines to work together in its warehouses. At the same time, the company has been known for automating big parts of the process. Reuters notes that technology has yet to solve one of the most basic and important functions in the warehouse: picking up a diverse set of items without breaking them.
Amazon’s fulfillment center jobs — high paying, new opportunities in the challenging manufacturing industry — have won the company acclaim and billions and public subsidies. The facilities typically employ more than 2,000 people each, and warehouse workers make up a big chunk of the 630,600 people the tech giant employed as of the end of the first quarter.
Amazon is embarking on a push to speed up delivery, changing up its standard two-day free Prime delivery offering, in favor of a one-day program. However, Reuters reports that the deployment of the CMC machines is about “efficiency and savings.”