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Monday, December 1, 2014

Amazon fulfillment and the robots at work .... !!

In huge warehouse as also in small shops, employees wander stacks of shelves to pick up merchandize  and arrange for delivery.  There was a time, when customers were taken for granted…. Not any longer – every now and then, you find newer techniques through which Companies try to reach out to new customers and strive to retain their loyal customers.  The small time traders are now fearing the onslaught by web sales, which was not envisaged about a decade ago, at least here in India.  In the recent months, E-tailing rivals Flipkart, Snapdeal  and Amazon have all impacted the customer buying pattern in a big way – now more look for big deals on the web and purchase goods online.

The real estate in the outskirts of the city, especially nearer Sriperambudur and Red Hills are likely to see upward trend as there are new kind of purchasers.  Those E-tailers who are looking for vast areas for their warehouses and fulfilment centres.    The recent day-long shopping sales of Flipkart, Snapdeal, and Amazon have scarred many as the e-commerce volumes far exceeded the anticipation in items like Electronics, Camers, mobiles, books, dresses, jewellery and more.  Be it Appiness or Dhamaka, there are takers and as more people keep browsing,  this market is bound to go only one way – the way up.  So if you're planning on grabbing one, make sure you're in front of a computer or a smartphone by the time it goes live.

Of the many, Amazon is an American electronic commerce company with headquarters in Seattle, Washington. It is the largest Internet-based company in the United States.  Amazon has separate retail websites in many other countries including India.  Sure, you have made ‘online purchase’ – ever wondered how the goods reach you…….  The goods that are e-sold are warehoused in places called fulfilment centres. Here, traditionally, goods are moved around a distribution centre using a conveyor system or by human operated machines (such as forklifts).  Warehouses are large and each has hundreds of employees. Employees are responsible for four basic tasks: unpacking and inspecting incoming goods; placing goods in storage and recording their location; picking goods from their computer recorded locations to make up an individual shipment; and shipping. A central computer which records the location of goods and maps out routes for pickers plays a central role; employees carry hand-held computers which communicate with the central computer and monitor their rate of progress. A picker with their cart may walk 10 or more miles a day.

All these could become a thing of past – as Amazon has Kiva.  In Kiva’s approach, items are stored on portable storage units. When an order is entered into the Kiva database system, the software locates the bot (also known as drive unit) closest to the item and directs it retrieve it. The mobile robots navigate around the warehouse by following a series of computerized barcode stickers on the floor. Each drive unit has a sensor, which prevents it from colliding with each other. When the drive unit reaches the target location, it slides underneath the pod and lifts it off the ground through a corkscrew action. The robot then carries the pod to the specified human operator to pick the items.

Kiva has two models of robots. The smaller model is approximately 2 feet by 2.5 feet, and one foot high and capable of lifting 1000 pounds. The larger model can carry pallets and loads as heavy as 3,000 pounds.  Both are  distinctive orange color. The maximum velocity of a robot is 1.3 meters per second. The mobile bots are battery-powered and need to be recharged every hour for five minutes. Kiva's relatively new approach to automated material handling systems for order fulfillment is gaining traction in eCommerce fulfillment, retail restocking, parts distribution and medical device distribution operations. The system claims to be much more efficient and accurate than the traditional method of having human workers traveling around the warehouse locating and picking items.

Kiva Systems is a Massachusetts based company that manufactures mobile robotic fulfillment systems and is  a subsidiary company of Amazon.com.  The squat orange robots of Kiva zoom around the shelves, pick and carry them for delivery making redundant the workforce that used to do hours of walking.   "We don't socialize as much, but it's more efficient," Rosales said as the bots zipped around behind him on the eve of Cyber Monday, when Amazon showed off its latest generation of Kiva robots to a group of journalists. The fleet of machines -- installed inside 10 of Amazon's warehouse in California, Texas, New Jersey, Washington and Florida -- enable Amazon to deliver millions of items to customers.  Amazon expects that sales volumes would  go up this year though not prepared to hazard guess on what it could be ! Amazon isn't alone; online shopping is mainstream. Customers who used to line up at cashier's stands have begun opting to buy items from their couches instead.

The items appear placed randomly, but they're actually organized based upon a computer algorithm. The result: One shelf in the Tracy warehouse had a My Little Pony toy, a roll of fluorescent tape and copies of Hamlet, smushed up next to one another.  As the Kiva robots speed up the pace of Amazon's warehouses, they raise a looming question that's being asked across the modern world: How much of what a human does can be done by a machine instead?  Some industries already know the answer !  So far, Amazon said it hasn't eliminated any jobs with the introduction of Kiva. ….but !!!!  ~ and what happens if a robot fails? Amazon has human engineers, who can usually fix a robot within a couple hours. Amazon tries to makes sure no more than ten robots per floor are out of commission at one time.

Amazingly Amazon !!

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

1st Dec 2o14.

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