There’s not a lot to see yet inside Amazon’s mammoth fulfillment center under construction in Shakopee, but the robots will be coming soon enough.
On Friday, Amazon officials gave a sneak peek inside the online giant’s first fulfillment center in Minnesota and what they said would be one of the company’s most technologically advanced warehouses to date.
The nearly 1 million square feet of space, which is mostly empty at the moment, will soon be filled with aisles and aisles of tall shelves stacked with products. Hundreds of little orange robots that resemble heavier and bigger versions of Roombas will be humming along the floor fetching items for employees to pack and send to customers.
Only about 13 of Amazon’s dozens of fulfillment centers in the U.S. use robots, which weigh about 320 pounds each and can lift up to 750 pounds, Amazon executives said.
“This technology will work side by side with associates to make a symphony of people and machines working side by side,” said Michael Feldman, a principal engineer in Amazon’s fulfillment division.
The robots help Amazon operate the warehouses much more efficiently, said Brian Urkiel, who currently is general manager of Amazon’s closest fulfillment center in Kenosha, Wis., and will be general manager of the one in Shakopee.
“It allows us to store more products and to make sure we have more things available to deliver to our customers in a shorter time frame,” he said.
The Shakopee center is part of Amazon’s push to offer faster service in the Twin Cities. In October 2014, the online retailer began collecting sales taxes on purchases sent to Minnesota addresses, the first sign that it was planning to build a physical presence in the state.
In August 2015, it opened a 150,000-square-foot sorting center in Shakopee, which enabled Amazon to launch Sunday delivery in this market, a service it already offered in most of the country. And in October, Amazon rolled out its Prime Now service that promises deliveries of groceries and some other items within two hours to parts of the Twin Cities. That operation runs out of a building in southeast Minneapolis.
As Amazon has expanded here, rivals such as Instacart, Postmates and DoorDash also grew in the region.
As for the massive fulfillment center in Shakopee, Amazon executives haven’t given an estimated opening date but say it will be sometime later this year. In the coming weeks, Amazon will begin a hiring push to fill about 1,000 full-time jobs.
Some Shakopee residents initially objected to tax incentives that the company sought from the city.
The retailer ended up forgoing a portion of those subsidies. The city did create a $5.8-million tax-increment financing district to pay for road improvements around the warehouse.
On Friday, Amazon invited Shakopee High School robotics team members to show off their inventions and to get tips from Amazon engineers.
At the event, Amazon presented the club with another gesture of goodwill: a supersized $10,000 check.