Thursday 21 December 2017

What We Talk About When We Talk About Fulfillment?

In any other week in the year, the answer to that conundrum might be - job satisfaction - meaningful work - successful completion - winning match - matching accessories. But in the week running up to the Feast of St Mammon it's all about Fulfillment Associates FAs: the minimum wage workers who do the Bezos bidding in Amazon hives. Those guys are working all the hours that Bezos sends, subject to the limits imposed by labor law. Here's Greg Zielinski, general manager of an Amazon warehouse in Dupont WA, an hour south of Seattle, talking about the process on Cyber Monday last year. Between Black Friday and 2359hrs on Christmas Eve is the busiest time of the year for retail. You can hunt up lots of criticism of the way Amazon treats its workers, and several members of my family won't use Amazon for that reason. But they have changed the way we shop: ruthless efficiencies and brutal negotiation supply-side, gives buyers goods 'n' stuff, and delivers them real cheap, real fast. Lots of sellers ask Amazon to do the final packing and shipping because they can apply economies of scale. Economies of scale means boredom, stress and repetitive strain injury in Amazon Fulfillment centers. But that deal saves smaller retailers from paper cuts, hernias and storage costs. But you have to pack your shit up properly or the ever smiling, secretly exasperated, Amazon Problem Solvers will come down the aisle and take your box to the sin-bin. So no peanuts!: keep the dunnage [packing material] large. Only one visible bar-code . . . not covering the box-opening. If you've sold your soul to Amazon Prime you can get your Instant Gratification Needs IGNs delivered to your door less than 2 hours after you make the last tap on your smart-phone. You can now chain-eat Ben&Jerry's ice-cream from your sofa.

Zielinski's warehouse in Dupont is a million sq.ft. in size: that's 10 hectares or 50% more that our farm. We warehouse 30 sheep . . . seems like a waste of space. We pay our workers less than the minimum wage, indeed they are like homeless people "will work for food" especially the sheep muesli mmmm good! which we are eking into them during the cold, and grassless, winter. The Amazon workers may be on the min.wage but at least they aren't kneeling on a concrete floor stacking shelves in Lidalditesci. In the more modern fulfillment centres the people are packers: the fetchers are robots. Amazon acquired Kiva Systems in 2012, quickly making it a wholly-owned subsidiary. Kiva makes the little heft-robots that bring shelf-stacks from the far corners of the warehouse so that the FAs can pick product and pop the whole order into the box. FAs need tea-breaks, smoko, t'ilet-breaks, a sandwich occasionally; Kivabot only need to be battery charged for 5 minutes every hour. Amazon time&motion geeks must have decided that it is inefficient to have people getting lost in the rectilinear jungle looking for Fad-tastik shockin' pink head-phones, Barbie the Tank-driver, and a gallon of strawberry ice-cream . . . and that's just the pink stuff.  Amazon does random stow with their inventory: everything is bar-coded but the dozen available Amazon Echos [wha' dat?] are shelved all over the shop. This means that consolidating an order requires fewer footsteps (or Kiva seconds) than if all the Echos were in one location. Engineers again!

All those Kiva bots whizzing around the floor would seem to be a recipe for a collision or a trip-and-fall as ankle-height bot meets FA carrying large box. But all the units are chipped up with WiFi collision avoidance software.  Regrettably no such software was present for the inaugural run of a new rail route through Dupont WA earlier this week. For reasons which will come out in the investigation, PTCS Prevention of Train Collision System software wasn't installed. PTCS is what it says on the tin: each train is wirelessed and GPSed up, as are all the hazards along the track. If the 'engineer' is doing something foolish or having a heart-attack, or there is an earthquake, then the train is brought to a halt on the tracks. Rather than coming round a 30mph corner at 80mph and leaving the tracks. I may have more to say on this later, but I'll leave it to Juan "Oroville" Brown for now, It is a weird coincidence that The Boy is a railway engineer and named for Hapag-Lloyd because that's the first thing I saw after hearing about his birth. The Dupont train derailment met the Interstate right in front of a Hapag-Lloyd truck [evidencial pic R]. An omen for the End of Days, maybe?

The Post-title is un hommage to Raymond Carver's book of short stories What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which has been blobmaged before about John Lanchester and the London Tube. You can buy a used copy on Amazon for £853.31 !

No comments:

Post a Comment