Report: Amazon Boxing Machines Work Much Faster than Humans

15 May, 2019

There have been many reports in recent years that warn of future job losses as machines replace humans in many industries.

Many companies, however, have denied they plan to use robots to replace workers. They say that, instead, machines will work along with humans to improve work processes. Some businesses have also said that many workers replaced by technology can be retrained to keep their jobs.

U.S.-based online seller Amazon is one company that has already added robot assistance to some of its warehouse operations. Now, a new report from Reuters news agency describes one Amazon process that could replace many humans.

In this Feb. 13, 2015 file photo, a worker places an item in a box for shipment,at a fulfillment center in DuPont, Washington.
In this Feb. 13, 2015 file photo, a worker places an item in a box for shipment,at a fulfillment center in DuPont, Washington.

Amazon has added new machines in warehouses that can fully load boxes in preparation for shipping, Reuters reported. The news agency says it got the information from two people who worked on the automation project for Amazon.

Goods marked with identifying information enter the machine on a moving belt. The machine has a computer system that recognizes each product and designs and creates a box to exactly fit its size and shape. The machine then places the products inside the box and marks the container for shipping.

An Italian technology company named CMC built the system called CartonWrap. Officials there did not comment for the story. But Reuters said people who worked on the Amazon project said the machines can process about 600 to 700 boxes an hour. This is about four to five times faster than humans could do the job.

The machines require one person to load products, another to refill the box material and a third to be available to fix possible issues with the machine, Reuters reported. Unlike people, the machines can operate continuously without breaks.

The people involved in the project said Amazon has so far only used the machines at a small number of its 55 U.S. warehouses. Each warehouse employs about 2,000 people.

Amazon reportedly has considered putting the systems in many of its U.S. warehouses. If that happens, up to 24 jobs could be removed from each warehouse, Reuters reported. This could amount to more than 1,300 total cuts in jobs.

The news agency reported it is unclear when the machines might be added to additional warehouses. Such major deployments of new technology at companies generally take a long time because they require many tests and approvals.

A spokeswoman for Amazon provided a statement to Reuters. "We are piloting this new technology with the goal of increasing safety, speeding up delivery times and adding efficiency across our network," the spokeswoman said. "We expect the efficiency savings will be re-invested in new services for customers, where new jobs will continue to be created."

Dave Clark, Amazon's top vice president of worldwide operations, tweeted about the Reuters report. He noted that the system being tested is good because it "makes packages smaller with less overall cardboard waste." And on the issue of technology replacing humans, he wrote: "For all this fear of lost jobs - the #1 issue for most of us is finding enough people to fill the jobs we have and the new ones we are creating."

Amazon has been growing its worker base for years and is one of the largest U.S. employers. After facing criticism for low wages and long working hours, the company announced an increase in starting pay for all U.S. employees to $15 an hour. Amazon has already moved to automate part of its warehouse operations. For example, Amazon uses robot machines to price goods and transport products to workers in warehouses.

Last month, a Reuters reporter visited a fulfillment center in Baltimore, Maryland. Amazon officials there told the reporter that widespread automation is unlikely to happen quickly. A major reason for this is that Amazon and other businesses have failed to find the right kind of robotic hand. It has been difficult for companies to develop a robotic hand that can handle many different kinds of products with the same care and effectiveness as humans.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Reuters news agency reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

How do you think machines will change the world of work in the future? Should technology be restricted to protect human jobs? Write to us in the Comments section, and visit 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

warehouse n.large building for storing goods to be sold

automation n.the controlling of something using machines and not people

belt n.part of a machine that moves objects

delivery n.the taking of things from one place to another

efficiency n.a good use of time and energy, without wasting time and money