Online commerce major Amazon.com has started using machines to automate the job of boxing up customer orders, Reuters reported.
The company’s warehouses in the US have started adding technology to scan goods coming down a conveyor belt and envelop them in boxes custom-built for each item.
Amazon has considered installing two machines at dozens more warehouses, removing at least 24 jobs at each one, the report said on Monday. These facilities typically employ more than 2,000 people.
That would amount to more than 1,300 cuts across 55 U.S. fulfillment centers for standard-sized inventory. Amazon would expect to recover the costs in under two years, at $1 million per machine plus operational expenses.
“We are piloting this technology with the goal of increasing safety, speeding up delivery times and adding efficiency across our network,” an Amazon spokeswoman said. “We expect the efficiency savings will be re-invested in new services for customers, where new jobs will continue to be created.”
Amazon last month downplayed its automation efforts to press visiting its Baltimore fulfillment center, saying a fully robotic future was far off. Its employee base has grown to become one of the largest in the United States, as the company opened new warehouses and raised wages to attract staff in a tight labor market.
The world’s largest online retailer will one day refrain from refilling packing roles. Those have high turnover because boxing multiple orders per minute over 10 hours is taxing work.
The new machines, known as the CartonWrap from Italian firm CMC Srl, pack much faster than humans. They crank out 600 to 700 boxes per hour, or four to five times the rate of a human packer. The machines require one person to load customer orders, another to stock cardboard and glue and a technician to fix jams on occasion.
Though Amazon announced it intends to speed up shipping across its Prime loyalty program, this latest round of automation is not focused on speed. It’s about efficiency and savings.
Including other machines known as the “SmartPac,” which the company rolled out recently to mail items in patented envelopes, Amazon’s technology suite will be able to automate a majority of its human packers. Five rows of workers at a facility can turn into two, supplemented by two CMC machines and one SmartPac.
Walmart, JD.com and Shutterfly have used CMC’s packing machines. Walmart, the main rival of Amazon, has started 3.5 years ago and has since installed the machines in several U.S. locations.