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Inside an Amazon Warehouse 206

redletterdave writes "In each one of's 80 fulfillment centers around the globe, Amazon relies on barcodes and human hands rather than robots or automation to find and ship the proper items in a quick and efficient manner. Without robots, Amazon utilizes a system known as 'chaotic storage,' where products are essentially shelved at random but are tagged with barcodes to be scanned at every step of the ordering, selection and shipping process. The real advantage to chaotic storage is that it's significantly more flexible than conventional storage systems. If there are big changes in a product range, the company doesn't need to plan for more space, because the products or their sales volumes don't need to be known or planned in advance if they're simply being stored at random. Free space is also better utilized in a chaotic storage system, and it's also a major time saver to not organize products as they come in. This system is the true key to's success in online retail."
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Inside an Amazon Warehouse

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  • by wvmarle ( 1070040 ) on Friday November 30, 2012 @04:15AM (#42139393)

    May be nice if that site works with the latest Firefox, too... been a while since I had an issue with a site just not working.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 30, 2012 @04:18AM (#42139403)

    If you've ever worked at Wallmart or I guess any of the other major supermarkets, they do the same thing. Store stuff whereever and track where it is. So it might be organized on the computer, but in the storerooms its real-world location bears no relation to it's computerized structure.

    Again for the same reason, seasonality and holidays etc. mean the sales are not constants and stocks of different items vary, and with small space at the supermarket for storage, it doesn't make sense to dedicate empty space to storing *potential* stuff.

    But hey, perhaps Bezo's plans to patent it, like one click ordering. So he's pretending it's a new thing.

  • by wvmarle ( 1070040 ) on Friday November 30, 2012 @05:19AM (#42139629)

    It's likely mostly the physical skill of opening a wrapper and taking a book out of it. Or worse, some odd shaped item. That's stuck in the tight wrapper.

    The first (and only photo visible to me) on that that site showed a bunch of shipping pallets aligned haphazardly with cartons stacked on top of them. Assuming one item per pallet, you go find the pallet (easy), then find which carton is currently open already (harder), then manouvre your arms and hands to take an item out of the carton (that's the tough one - especially the getting your fingers around it part), and place it in your shopping trolley or whatever they use there (easy again).

    Finding and scanning bar codes may also be tricky, as they're likely not on fixed locations.

    Current robots work where a blind man could work. They are as good as blind, after all. And need to know exactly where to find a product, and how to take one and only one. That's not easy with all those odd shaped, and constantly changing products.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 30, 2012 @06:23AM (#42139853)

    The reason you have to go to a particular bin is that the company likely runs a FIFO inventory system, so they want you to pick the oldest items first. There are various good reasons to do this (we do it too in normal manufacturing inventory).

  • by agentgonzo ( 1026204 ) on Friday November 30, 2012 @07:49AM (#42140241)
    "This system is the true key to's success in online retail". That, and not paying any tax.
  • Re:Humans? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Friday November 30, 2012 @09:32AM (#42140697)

    The first world societies have to understand real soon that they need to figure out what to do with the jobless masses with IQs under 110 in fifty years.

    Well, the problem of "masses" is taking care of itself []. No need for government policy there; market forces are driving population growth down.

    As to the "IQ under 110," there are lots of productive and necessary jobs that can't easily be automated. It's going to be a long time before a robot can cook a gourmet meal or repair a leaky faucet or give me a good haircut.

    One doesn't need to be educated or even terribly smart to be a productive member of society. One just needs a work ethic.

  • Re:true key (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 30, 2012 @11:13AM (#42141571)

    That was step 1. We're at the end of step 2 now. Run razor thin margins while continuing to grow and build efficiency while fighting taxation of online sales. Step 3 is support taxes knowing that your potential competition has either been eliminated or sufficiently crippled, and this will keep them that way. Step 4 will be raise prices and profit.

    As The Register pointed out yesterday, thanks to AWS/S3/etc, Amazon may very well have the rest of the world paying its datacenter costs now.

  • by Hulfs ( 588819 ) on Friday November 30, 2012 @11:18AM (#42141659)
    As someone who spent some time several years ago developing a picking algorithm for plumbing / electrical warehouses, there's generally much more to it than just a simple scanning / shortest path equation. You'll generally want to make sure you're going through your older stock first so you don't end up with old, unsellable stock, sometimes you want to actually clear out bins that have only a few items in them to make room for more stock, and many more things. So, just because you may walk by a few bins that have your item in it already doesn't mean the algorithm is dumb (though it very well may mean that), it may mean that those who set up the system assigned higher value to other picking / service priorities than just pick speed.

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