The 130,000-square-foot facility moves packages through a condensed version of Amazon’s fulfillment network, allowing items like AirPods and coronavirus tests to arrive at a customer’s home hours after purchase.
The depot operates almost 24/7, with only one hour of downtime, and splits the day into different windows for estimating drop times. It uses an internal scale to store the most common items. Once a customer clicks on an order, it sends one of its autonomous bots on a “mission” to grab the item.
Amazon has more than 40 same-day facilities across the country, including two in Washington. The first of its kind, SWA1, opened in Everett in 2019.
Once operations at the Renton warehouse, SWA2, are fully ramped up, both locations will enable same-day deliveries to Amazon Prime customers as far north as Marysville, as far south as Tacoma and as far east as Snolquamie, Maple Valley and Black Diamond.
“We have set a goal of continuing to reduce lead time,” said Steve Falk, multi-site leader in charge of Amazon warehouses in Washington, Colorado, Utah and Northern California. “With the launch of SWA2, we are able to offer this service to more customers.”
Amazon was forced to suspend warehouse plans last year after state officials expressed concerns about how the more than 1,500 cars scheduled to enter and leave the site each day would affect traffic. Since then, Amazon has spent the past year tweaking its plans and approving mitigation measures.
The project was halted five times between August 2021 and April 2022, according to Renton officials’ documents.
Amazon has faced similar concerns across the country as it expands its physical reach, with advocates drawing attention to the potential impact of noise, traffic and pollution on the communities in which Amazon is based. And human rights advocates say that, in some cases, those harms disproportionately affect poor communities and communities of color.
In Washington, the company recently backed away from its plans to open a warehouse in the Rainier Valley, announcing its decision the day before for community members to gather to protest Amazon’s presence in the neighborhood.
Renton officials approved plans for the Amazon warehouse in July, but approval is “subject to conditions,” according to documents from the city’s Department of Community and Economic Development.
This is because Amazon’s business pattern and workload does not necessitate some of these mitigation measures immediately, Alex Morganroth, a senior planner in Renton, said. In other words, these traffic concerns won’t be an issue until Amazon’s business grows in the region.
“They have been very vocal about what they are trying to do. It is a new use case for us,” Morganroth said. “More than anything, there were some lessons learned for potential future expansion.”
Amazon has until the end of January to build a roundabout, put up a traffic light, widen part of the street to the warehouse, add Americans with Disabilities Act compliant sidewalk ramps, put up warning signs for the upcoming warehouse and cut some plants. Amazon is also spending $400,000 to implement traffic control systems at four intersections around the facility.
“It has been a journey for us to get this building off the ground, but we were committed to working with the judiciary,” Falk said.
The new warehouse will serve Amazon Flex gig workers who receive packages in their own vehicles and make deliveries to customers’ doors. The length of a Flex driver’s route can range from two to five hours.
It has about 100 employees every hour and expects an increase of up to 250 workers.
An Amazon package typically travels through three types of premises before it reaches a customer’s doorstep: the fulfillment center, the sorting center, and the delivery station. Falk said Amazon, at its same-day facilities, would “take all of that and put it under one roof” to deliver hours after a customer places an order.
A smaller same-day facility has many of the same things as a larger fulfillment center — autonomous robots that bring items to partners, picking and packing stations for workers to process orders and prepare them for delivery, and a conveyor belt that helps get every item out the door — but the process is intense.
There is only one main conveyor belt. The pick-and-pack stations are set back with a “wall” filled with small compartments, with helpers on either side to deposit an item and then pick it up again. Instead of loading a large truck, packages are loaded into the driver’s personal vehicle with an average of 30 items per trip.
A Renton warehouse can handle things as small as gift cards and toothpaste and as large as car seats, brooms, and dog food bags.
Since its launch on August 31, the facility has been moving about 5,000 packages per day. Once it fully rises over the next several months, it will jump to 20,000.
For inventory storage, Amazon uses the Amazon Salable Inventory Number, a metric that predicts popular items by region. The items at a same-day delivery station in Seattle may not be the same as those in Tampa, Florida. In general, AirPods, coronavirus tests, and Fire TV sticks are very popular, Falk said.
The warehouse was first built in 1997. Before Amazon moved in, the space was occupied by DHL Global Forwarding.
In February, nearly 10 months after Amazon first filed paperwork for the new warehouse, Renton City Council announced a moratorium on land use, permits, and license applications for warehouses and distribution facilities to give employees time to “analyze the impacts,” according to a report from the Department of Economic and Social Development in Renton.
Although Amazon narrowly missed it, city officials decided it would still be exempt from the moratorium because it occupies space in an “existing industrial building.”