|Darnell Gilton (Photo for the Sun-Times by Ashlee Rezin Garcia).|
Darnell Gilton is “picking,” a process that takes six or seven seconds.
“When the pod pulls up to me, I look at the screen,” explains Gilton. “The screen tells me what bin to pick the product from. I go to the bin, I grab the product, I bring it to the hand scanner here, I scan the product, the light tells me what tote to put the product in. Just like that.”
The pod is a yellow tower about 7 feet high, each of four sides presenting a grid of merchandise tucked securely into bins, driven by an orange robot tucked underneath. The screen shows an item — in this case, a Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge + Case located in cubby 2H. Gilton grabs it, scans it, tosses it into a yellow bin beyond a flashing green button, hitting the button to show he’s finished the task. Then he does it again, with a different product. About 350 times an hour.
Gilton works at MDW7, the Amazon Robotics Fulfillment Center in Monee, one of nine in Illinois, with two more on the way. In all, there are 50 similar facilities in the United States, with another 100 worldwide, part of a staggering network of warehouses, distribution hubs, conveyers, chutes, trucks, pickers, drivers, supervisors and, of course, an omnipresent internet presence, which working together last year sold $280 billion worth of products and delivered 3.5 billion packages worldwide. hiring 5,500 new workers in Illinois, adding to the 23,000 already working in the state.
Between that, and Amazon Prime Day last week — Prime Days actually, Tuesday and Wednesday, when the world’s largest e-retailer offered all sorts of sales for its 112 million U.S. members, more than a third of the entire population of the country, who get free shipping for a monthly Prime fee of about $12 — a visit seemed in order.
MDW7 — “MDW” refers to the code for Midway; Amazon fulfillment centers are named for the nearest airport — is enormous, nearly a million square feet, and from the parking lot, that size immediately presents reportorial challenges.
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