A two (+12) hours tour to Amazon Fulfillment Center, VA

I’ve reserved this tour about a year ago. I always have a fascination for visiting giant factory like facilities. I think I’ve got this when I witnessed my father as a chief contractor for a giant textile mills in Pagla, Narayanganj.

Initially I planned to visit this with my family until, at very late, I came to know that visitor must be at least 6 years old. My daughter is about 5 years early for that :P, hence my wife couldn’t go too. So, I invited 3 of my other friends and among them 2 could make it in this short notice.

We started on 15th’s very early morning even before we saw the sunlight. It’s more than 6 hours of drive from Brooklyn. We reached there about 30 minutes ahead of scheduled time.

The area closed to the facility is so beautiful. The roads are so clean and solid and natures are really soothing. From the outside we could tell how giant this facility is. Though there were a few signs posted about tour guests parking, it was difficult to locate exact place as several roads were closed and there were no detour signs. So we had to make several back and forth before we found a staff and ask for assistance who removed one of the blocker to the  way to actual tourist parking lot.

When we entered the facility we’ve been welcomed by a few of organizers and we were given badges. Then they took us a to classroom where they’ve given us instructions how the tour will be conducted and also gave us wireless headphones. This was extremely helpful as the whole place is too noisy and we could barely hear anything unless we put the headphone on. The noise basically coming from conveyer belts that were throughout the facility.

Then we’ve taken to different areas of the facility including the inbound area where they process all incoming shipments from FBA sellers, MODs where they store all items in smaller quantity, packing area, labeling and sorting area etc.

I remember, when I saw a packer was very quickly taking boxes for putting items in it I wondered whether he decides those himself that fast or the software tells what size of box required. It’s actually the later. As soon he starts processing order, required size of shipping box is displayed on the screen. Technology is amazing, isn’t it?

Then we’ve been taken to the places where shipping labels are affixed. I thought it’s a manually process until I saw it. After a box is kept on the belt, a shipping label is automatically attached at a later step (identified by order barcode that’s affixed by the packer). However, we saw this process is very error prone and there were 2-3 people who fixes those things manually.

It was very clear that lots of technological magics happen there at all times. However, the importance of manual labor is nevertheless. I was really amazed to see the size of the facility. They also mentioned the combined size of 3 floors is equivalent to 28 football fields.

However, during my short stay there, I’ve got an impression that work condition may be very hard there! I tried to pay attention to a number of people and they looked tired and seemed unhappy. Pardon my judgements if I’m wrong (and I’ll be happy to be wrong here) but I found it aligned when I saw at least two people were sleeping in their car at parking lot. I found only one person, other than the organizers, gave us a positive vibe by giving us smile though many of them noticed us. It may also mean they were very busy and/or their job needs undivided attention! To get a better understand on this, I asked the tour guide how often the workers are allowed to take rest. She replied it’s only twice in their 10 hours shift including their cafeteria time (lunch/dinner/breakfast)! Thanks my load; my job is much easier. Coincidentally it reminded me an article that I read recently about how Amazon pushes its engineers beyond their boundaries.

The tour ended with thank you gift that included a 8oz bottle of water and a mini USB car charger, which interestingly I didn’t find on amazon.com.

Very sadly, we were not allowed to take pictures that actually lost 50% value of the tour, though I respect the fact that it’s their own facility and they have rights to impose any policies. But how something can be a tour if you can’t take a photos?

Overall, unlike my friends, I somewhat enjoyed my tour. I believe the tour can be better in several way including reducing the number of people in each tour so that people can take a closer look. I also want to thank you Amazon to let us visit their facility.

I, however, do not suggest anyone else to take such a long drive for the tour. It’s definitely not worthy. Visit a nearby facility.