Robots buzz about at Amazon’s Haslet facility

The inbound bay at Amazon’s Haslet Fullfillment Center is where items are received and processed for later delivery.
The inbound bay at Amazon’s Haslet Fullfillment Center is where items are received and processed for later delivery. Star-Telegram

Man and machine work in harmony at Amazon’s Haslet Fulfillment Center.

And the machines, of course, are robots.

The online retail giant’s center was put on display Friday with a grand opening, where the company allowed local media to tour the facility and see its new Kiva robots, which debuted in the company’s storehouses in July.

Hundreds of thousands of units of inventory are moved out of the warehouse daily, fulfilling customers’ orders of smaller items — such as books, vitamins and toys — and the robots have helped to improve efficiency. (A second fulfillment center in Coppell handles medium to larger items, such as televisions and kayaks.)

Amazon officials led a tour of the predominantly gray and yellow warehouse, explaining that the short, boxy robots called “drives” move storage shelves called “pods” over to an employee, who puts the new inventory into open shelves. The drives then move the pods back to be stored, and the process repeats. Call it a constant queue.

“Our goal is to have everything available at any time,” said Joanna Hicks, general manager of the center that sits west of Interstate 35W on Westpark Way, in the Alliance corridor.

Amazon officials said they have more than 15,000 of the robots in use at 10 of the company’s 50 U.S. fulfillment centers, but would not say how many are in use in Haslet.

Just down the walkway, called The Green Mile, other drives, which weigh 325 pounds and can lift up to 700 pounds, search for recently ordered products, pick up the pods and bring them to an employee —called a “picker” — to grab the ordered product and send it on its way to packaging.

“The robotics and associates work in perfect harmony together,” said Ashley Robinson, an Amazon strategic communications manager, adding that the system utilizes what the robots and people do best.

Nearly 10 miles of conveyor belts take the ordered products from one side of the warehouse to the other. An unmanned automated guided vehicle also transports other items to other parts of the fulfillment center, which measures 1.2 million square feet, enough to hold roughly 21 football fields.

Employees package the orders and send them on the conveyor belt to receive labels, and then to the shipping dock.

While walking through the center, it’s clear that safety is taken seriously. Zones are marked off that require employees to wear safety vests, and some areas are robot-only areas. Plenty of warning signs and clearly marked paths can be seen, and a shipping dock employee was quick to send Dan Seidel, regional director, and a photographer back to the safe zone.

“Every meeting starts with a safety tip,” Robinson said. “Safety is top priority.”

The Haslet location opened in August 2013, but it hadn’t been made available to the public or media until this week. Robinson said that was simply because the facility was still under construction, and it still has some more to do but the company wanted to invite more eyes in.

Amazon also gave media a tour of its Coppell facility, which opened in September 2013. The company employs more than 1,500 people among its Texas-based fulfillment centers in Haslet, Coppell and Schertz, near San Antonio.

The Haslet facility, which runs 24/7, recently hired 500 new employees. All of the positions have already been filled, and 250 part-time workers were made full-time.

“We had an amazing response and quickly filled the new positions,” Robinson said.

Mark David Smith, 817-390-7808

Twitter: @MarkSmith_FWST