amazon recently showed off its new state-of-the-art fulfillment center off Lemmon Drive in the 91-acre LogistiCenter 395 industrial park.
Mike Roth, the Amazon vice president of North American operations, called the building an eighth-generation facility (one of 10 in the United States) compared to the first generation building in Fernley, which it replaced.
“The company is constantly innovating on behalf of its customers,” Roth said.
The 600,200-square-foot facility currently employs a full-time staff of 600.
Five hundred moved with Amazon from the Fernley facility, which opened in 1999.
Ten associates have been with the company since the Fernley facility opened, said Paul Pace, general manager of the fulfillment center, and by August, 30 more will celebrate 15 years with Amazon.
The Reno fulfillment center began receiving merchandise in January, and has yet to reach capacity, Roth said.
Due to the new center’s optimal use of space and technology, it already holds many times the volume of merchandise as the Fernley warehouse even though the older facility was nearly as large at 580,000 square feet.
When the Fernley center opened 15 years ago, it only shipped books and CDs, Roth said, and was limited to smaller items.
The Reno facility specializes in items that are 18 inches and larger.
During a tour of the new fulfillment center, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval asked about the largest item in the warehouse. Roth said they had shipped a 9-foot statue of Saint Mary on April 23. Current stock includes 8-foot paddleboards. Summer merchandise includes swing sets.
“There’s an incredibly diverse product mix that comes in,” Roth said
“The selection of merchandise is unbelievable. Every possible item you can imagine.”
Shelves and pallets are filled with giant-screen TVs, pet food, diapers, wrapping paper, linens, DVDs and much more.
Shelves in the Amazon warehouse rise nearly to the 41-foot-high ceiling with “very narrow aisles,” called VNAs, to maximize space and allow associates on cranes to access both sides of the aisle.
Technology precisely guides each step from receipt of a product at the fulfillment center to shipping it out.
The computerized program decides where to store items when they arrive without trying to sort them by type. Diapers can end up next to TVs in the system known as “random storage.”
“It seems chaotic,” Roth said. “There’s a reason for it. It allows us to optimize storage space.”
“So it took 15 years to discover it didn’t matter (what order things were stored in),” Sandoval commented, “that it’s more efficient to store randomly. That’s counter-intuitive.”
When an order comes in, a radio frequency guided crane, steered by wiring embedded in the floor, transports an Amazon associate to the aisle and shelf where the specific item can be retrieved.
Then it needs to be boxed, where additional state-of-the-art machinery is employed.
Scanners keep track of what box goes with what product, making the boxer’s job more efficient. Items that don’t exactly fit standard boxes are scanned and another specialized machine on site quickly creates a custom package.
“The system knows the dimensions of every single item. It knows which box is optimal for it,” Roth said.
Boxes are sent along a conveyor — different types of boxes can run at the same time — and scanned, weighed and labeled for shipping.
“The conveyor belt knows the exact weight of each item. If something is off, it sidetracks it for an associate to hand check,” Roth said. “The machines are very very sensitive.”
A few years ago at another fulfillment center, the scanner detected a shipment of CDs had come from the manufacturer with everything except the CDs, Roth said.
Some things are best managed by hand, including loading the trucks. Hand loading by trained associates minimizes wasted space.
As Reno’s Amazon fulfillment center fills and operations expand, it’s expected to boost business for support business such as UPS and FedEx, as well as smaller regional carriers.
“If (Amazon) is successful here,” Sandoval said, “it shows other companies they can be successful too.”