Amazon fulfillment center Tour Experience

I always used to wonder what goes behind those efficiencies in fulfillment center and trying to meet the ever increasing demand and crunching delivery timelines. I was fortunate to get a chance to visit  the nearest Amazon FC located in San Marcos, TX on August 16th, 2019 which is a 855,000 Sq Ft. site. little less than the nearest 1.2 Million Sq Ft San Antonio site.

Please note that most of the content is from the notes that I've taken during the tour and some from online research (Links provided at the end). I've taken permission from the tour guide to write this article at a later point.

We were first taken to a intro room where we were given an idea about the tour sequence and audio device as it will be noisy in the area. The overall process has been split into 7 steps:

Inbound, 2) Stow, 3) Pick, 4) Pack, 5) SLAM, 6) Shipping and 7) Delivery

Inbound: Here is where the products arrive from manufacturers and sellers which are stored in the Amazon FC.

Stow: Where products are placed in coded bins and entered into inventory for them to be located later.

Amazon uses RSP (Robotic Storage Platform) where robots (Kiva Robots) come to associate with shelves (Which can store up to 600 Products). The Kiva robots are usually 16 to 18 Inches in height and can carry a load of up to 750 pounds to 3000 pounds based on the model of the robot used. They use QR codes throughout the floor for tracking their location and for following the path of the grid.

Stowing process is randomized placement of items in the bins and that's an advantage amazon takes. shelves are highlighted if they are filled and guide associate with potential locations for where a product can go in. Using motion sensor the bin location of where the associate has placed the product will be tracked. A snapshot is always taken after this process for quality purpose to validate where something is being stored .

  1. Pick: When an Order arrives associates picks the products and place them into one of the bins with the help of Kiva robots which brings the appropriate shelves to the associate. The picked product is placed in the yellow totes or container which travels all the way for packing through conveyer belts. At any point in the fulfillment center the data related to any pallet location, quantity of items in it are virtually available.

To encourage associates, FC's usually run a robotic signing competition where associates who picks maximum number of items per month or week.

Pack: The yellow totes travel to a separate area where packaging happens and lot of  associates are involved in this activity. Based on the size of the product appropriate packaging material is suggested to the associate who picks up the product or sometimes its a grouping of product to an address that happens. Finally they will be placed carefully in those smile boxes and smart packs.

SLAM: which stands for 'Scan/Label/Apply/Manifest' is where the package goes through final processing and routed to the proper outbound truck. The FC used CTM labelling system which was amazing to print the address and also apply it to the box while the box is still in motion. They showed us the controls of how the system is handled during exception like missing the label, printer paper being over, etc.,.

The weight of the package is also something that's validated and if any anomaly occurs, it's being taken to a problem solver to open the box and figure out why the weight or label is not printed.

Shipping: The package is then brought to the sortation center, routed to the proper outbound truck and shipped to a delivery station. The FC has smart vision lights throughout the conveyor belts and chutes to detect any anomaly. Yellow chutes push the package to the right truck - to the sortation center and it looks like a fun ride through the spiral slide right to the truck.

Delivery: Final stage where Amazon Delivery Associate or Flex drivers bring the order to door step. I was fortunate to attend one of the Last Mile sessions that Amazon has conducted in Austin which brought a lot of insights into their  projects of achieving ultimate customer delight. I love the recent feature which shows exactly how many steps or hops a package is away from the destination showcased on the map.

Associates Happiness:

I learned a lot about how the FC keeps it's associates happy while the work is demanding is by having many programs like Cookie Bake, Amazing Children, Bowling night and Trivia. It also has boards for Voice of associate and voice of business. They are provided with Career choice after an year of work with financial assistance of up to 90-95% for 1 or 2 year degree. Associates rest period is also something to note that for every 40 mins, they are asked to do a 60 seconds rest.


I know Jeff Bezos has signed the paris climate agreement and Amazon is very particular about sustainability and with the amount packaging material that floats around, trying to do the right thing is very important for them. I know recycling of cardboards that vendors gives while shipping their products and cardboard compactors within the FC.

The scale of the entire system is Amazing and no words to tell and it's a bliss to my operations and process management eye. It's where humans and robots work together. It was a day well spent and can't wait to look forward to them working on their efficiencies towards hourly delivery, drones and they have already hit home run with regards to single day delivery with most of their products adhering to it.

Amazon opens the doors to new Romulus robotics fulfillment center
The Romulus facility is one of 25 that employs hundreds of robots to move around shelves of millions of products.