Business & Real Estate

Sacramento Amazon facility ‘just amazing’

Stepping in the door of Amazon’s sprawling fulfillment center at Metro Air Park north of downtown Sacramento on Friday morning, the energy was almost palpable.

Workers swiped badges and poured through turnstile doors onto the main floor. High-fives were exchanged here and there. Voices are soon drowned out by the relentless drone of hundreds of yards of conveyors moving along at various elevations. Robots moved tall stacks of merchandise to humans in the “stow” and “pick” areas. Bright-yellow bins and brown Amazon-branded boxes whiz by in an endless, dizzying parade. hosted a “grand-opening” tour of the 855,000-square-foot facility Friday, with public officials and local media organizations getting an opportunity to see package sorting/delivery at the current state of high-tech evolution.

The facility, which employs 2,000 full-time workers at 4900 W. Elkhorn Blvd., actually began shipping orders in late October, but Amazon officials opted to wait until after the busy holiday season to host the tour.

On Friday, guests included state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna and Sacramento City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby. All three appeared periodically mesmerized by the sprawling infrastructure and computerized features, whipping out mobile phones to record the sweep of motion and activity.

“Incredible … just amazing” Pan said during the tour as he quickly scooted from place to place.

Asbhy, noting that all three elected officials live within a bike ride of the facility, said it offered proof that Sacramento is “not just a government town or just a downtown town.”

Serna called the center “the plow blade” on the Metro Air Park site, a 1,900-acre area that he expects to be a vortex of further development.

The Sacramento fulfillment center is one of more than a dozen Amazon facilities in California employing more than 30,000. Officials of the Seattle-based company stressed that the Sacramento site is packed with state-of-the-art software, robotics and high-tech machinery.

There are two daily worker shifts – day and night – and the number of workers varies depending on the time of year.

The Sacramento site is designed to sort, pack and ship comparatively small items, such as books, electronics and toys. It can house “more than 33 million items,” according to center General Manager Jordan Nelson.

That was the first of a series of mind-blowing statistics Nelson dished up.

Another gem: During the Christmas season, he said the center is moving 55,000 items an hour.

On-site operations are so massive that they can only be taken in completely from a fourth-floor observation area.

In one area, robots pick up tall vertical shelves of products and deliver them to the human sorters, saving time that ordinarily would be dedicated to workers walking among yards of shelves. Video monitors linked to computerized systems inform workers on where specific packages need to go before they whisk them away.

Nelson noted that once a single item from a vendor is scanned into the system, it’s immediately available for sale on the website. He also noted that the area where robots operate is off-limits to humans, unless human assistance is required to pick up an item that fell off a stack. Even then, special training is required for those human helpers.

Nelson also pointed out the relatively small size of the bright yellow bins, called “totes”, that run along the conveyor belts – totes measure 18 inches wide, 24 inches long and 16 inches deep – a byproduct of the relatively small items handled by the Sacramento center. The weight limit per item is 25 pounds. Oversize items are handled by other Amazon facilities.

Humans have control in the three packing areas on-site, with seemingly endless supplies of boxes within easy reach. Nelson noted that the facility recycles tons of corrugate material.

Arguably the most spectacular process involves final sorting for shipment. Scores of sealed packages move under a scanner at the head of a conveyor belt stretching farther than a football field. The computerized scans are recognized by hundreds of magnetized devices along the conveyor, and on cue, they push packages into specific truck bays for delivery. Different bays handle different chores, including geographic destination of the package and the method of delivery.

Mark Glover: 916-321-1184, @markhglover

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