From drone deliveries to checkout-free brick-and-mortar stores, Amazon has made no secret of its desire to automate as many parts of the retail experience as possible. While Amazon employs thousands of people in its fulfillment centers, it may be because it hasn’t yet figured out a way to automate their role. Until now, that is. Things could be about to get even more dicey for human workers as Amazon is reportedly rolling out machines capable of boxing up customer orders.
According to Reuters, Amazon has considered using machines at dozens of warehouses, removing at least 24 roles at each one. Because each machine costs $1 million plus operational expenses, it would likely take Amazon a little under two years to recoup the cost of installing the machines. The machines are manufactured by Italian firm CMC Srl, and are called CartonWrap. They are able to pack up to 700 boxes per hour, which is four to five times the rate of a human packer. Each machine requires a human operator to load customer orders, another to stock cardboard and glue, and a technician to fix jams when and where required.
Plans to roll out the new machines throughout Amazon’s operations have not yet been finalized. Vetting new pieces of technology can take a long time to complete given the enormous problems that would result if the machines were to cause a slowdown in the hectic operation of an Amazon fulfillment center. The same packing technology is also used by JD.com and Shutterfly, along with — reportedly — Walmart.
“We are piloting this new technology with the goal of increasing safety, speeding up delivery times, and adding efficiency across our network,” an Amazon spokeswoman told Reuters in a statement. “We expect the efficiency savings will be reinvested in new services for customers, where new jobs will continue to be created.”
Because of the high turnover rate associated with packers at its fulfillment centers, Amazon may be hoping that the technology will give it a way to reduce the need to constantly hire and train new employees, who may ultimately not wind up working for the company very long.