Amazon fulfillment center brings robotics to Sparrows Point - Baltimore


Mar. 22, 2019 12:23 pm

Amazon fulfillment center brings robotics to Sparrows Point

The center, which opened late last year, is the third in Maryland. The ecommerce giant opened the space up for a tour this week.

Your Amazon order comes from here.

(Gif via Giphy)

Sparrows Point was once the home of the “Beast of the East,” a massive blast furnace that produced millions of tons of metal for Bethlehem Steel’s operations.

Today, there’s still a focus on sending things out from the area, but some things have changed. The development is now called Tradepoint Atlantic, and the products heading from one new center are bound for resident’s doors to the tune of hundreds of thousands each day.

The 855,000-square-foot facility is an Amazon fulfillment center.

“We launched this building in Sparrows Point to strengthen our fulfillment network and better serve our customers across Maryland, and the mid-Atlantic region. This building features Amazon robotics technology and innovative processes that enable our associates to exceed customers’ expectations,” said Tim Foley, the general manager of the center. He was joined by officials to mark a grand opening inside the building this week.

“To see the incredible transformation of this site is exciting and it’s encouraging about where the future is,” said Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski Jr.

The facility opened late last year, as Amazon wanted to bring it online prior to the holiday season in 2018.

“So in other words, we had less than a year to transform this site from a former steel mill property to the beautiful world-class, state-of-the-art ecommerce facility it is today,” said Eric Gilbert, chief development officer of Tradepoint Atlantic.

The facility employs 2,000 people, and is Amazon’s third in the state to go along with centers on Broening Highway in Baltimore city and North East in Cecil County. Together, they employ 5,500 people.

“I can’t wait to see what this strong partnership with Amazon will lead to next,” Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland said.

Baltimore County executive John Olszewski greets workers at an Amazon Fulfillment Center. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Baltimore County executive John Olszewski greets workers at an Amazon fulfillment center. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

During a tour, Foley said the facility handles picking, packing and shipping of small merchandise. The materials are stowed there, and once purchased they are picked and shipped out.


To keeping the items moving quickly requires Amazon introduced lots of tech to the process, including robotics.

These include hundreds of “drives” that sit at the base of pod units containing the items, and bring the unit to an employee when needed. Rather than shelving that’s stacked in rows, these pods move around, making right angle turns and appear to be skating across the floor.

“Robotics allows us to effectively bring space to our employees so they don’t have to hunt around for the best space,” Foley said.

Inside Amazon's Sparrows Point fulfillment center. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Inside Amazon’s Sparrows Point fulfillment center. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

There’s also automation in the steps as it heads toward the truck. Items are packed — complete with tape that’s measured by a computer — then labeled with another specific machine. The items then move down a conveyor toward transportation that’s assigned based on size. Walking through the facility, conveyors were positioned overhead, where packages spiraled down to their location

“The name of the game in fulfillment is space utilization,” Foley said.

Amazon packages travel to transportation at a fulfillment center. (photo by Stephen Babcock)

Amazon packages travel to transportation at a fulfillment center. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

No software developers are employed at the Baltimore County site, but Foley said one of the tech jobs at the site involves maintaining the robotics systems.

On the topic of devs, Hogan was asked about reopening lines of communication with the company about bringing a headquarters to the state in light of Amazon’s decision to cancel plans for HQ2 in New York. Montgomery County was a finalist for the HQ2 search, and Baltimore also submitted a proposal though it did not make the shortlist.

“I contacted them immediately as soon as I heard about the problems in New York,” he said. Amazon has said it’s not searching reopening the HQ2 search, and Hogan received that message as well. “We laid down a marker to let them know, ‘Hey, we’re still here.”

Tim Foley, general manager of Amazon's Sparrows Point fulfillment center (left) and Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Tim Foley, general manager of Amazon’s Sparrows Point fulfillment center (left) and Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Companies: Amazon
People: Larry Hogan
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