Pick Paths

In the first quarter of 2015, I was able to transfer from AFE pack, nights to the pick department, days. I generally prefer to pick. I like to walk and keep moving, rather than stand at a pack station for ten hours.

SDF8 has two pick mods–east mod and west mod. Each mod has four floors. I always prefer 4th floor because it is more open with vertical space. The first floor is hard concrete–much harder on the body than the upper floors, which are plywood. A picker can move several floors or pick areas within a mod during a session or a shift. All pick paths are generated by computer algorithms.

A picker is generally assigned to one side or the other, as walking back and forth would take a lot of time, but pickers might be moved from one side to the other during the day if volume requires. I usually pick in the east mod. Each mod has its own stand-up area for stand-up meetings described above, and I report to the east pick stand-up area for start of shift and after lunch.

A picker, when beginning work, logs in to her hand-held scanner (or “gun”), submits an answer to a Connections question if there is one, then reads her first location–first, second, third, fourth floor, aisle, bin location. She walks up steps to that floor, obtains a push cart and a yellow plastic tote to place on the cart. Then she walks to the first pick location specified on her gun. She scans the bin location, identifies the item, scans the item, places the item in her tote, reads her screen for conformation of a successful pick, reads new pick location, walks there, makes new pick, continues. When her tote is full or her gun says batch is complete, she takes her tote to the nearest conveyor, drops it off, and continues with new tote.

The algorithms used to develop pick paths take worker stress into consideration last. They are designed (sometimes questionably) for optimal storage space and systematic-mechanical efficiency.  For instance:

pick aisle 157 to 108 to 130 to 117 to 106 to 128 to 134 to new pick area, then 108 to 104 to 119 to 131 to 133 to 176 to 178 to 185 to 194 to 220 to 221 to 228 to 245 to 225 to 221 to 228 to 245 to 225 to 221 to 213 to 201 to 197 to 190 to 191 to 188 to 180 to 168 to 168(2) to 167 to 158 to 158(2) to 134 to 130 to new pick area, then 123 to 120 to 119 to 119(2) to 119(3) to 241 to 108 to 163 to 208 to 151 to 205 to 215 to 216 to 249 to 201 . . .

Some pick paths are better, some worse than the above. This path would be recognizable to any picker as a standard path he might encounter during any given work session. I have never measured aisle widths, but I believe they are about eight foot on center. Pickers walk a lot. Nearly everyone who works at SDF8 walks a lot on hard concrete.

Because pick paths vary, there are not specific pick rate number expectations. Individual hourly rate expectations are manufactured by the same algorithms creating pick paths. Workers rates are evaluated as a percentage to that goal, so the actual pick rate number is less relevant than the percentage of rate. I might, on a slow day, be picking at 90% of rate. On a good day, 120% of rate.

If I walk at a normal pace, I will not make my rate. If I hustle–walk fast, pick fast, focus intently–I can do well. Herein lies an interesting dynamic of Amazon–I don’t mind moving fast and working hard. I’m not averse to it, I’m inured to it. I enjoy the healthy use of the body. In fact, after a month of walking through cornfields as a farm laborer, I feel like Superman; not so with Amazon labor. I’ve done construction, farm labor, etc. I’ve worked every kind of labor job from small company to large. I’m a Bukowskian factotum. But I’ve never seen anything like Amazon’s physical + psychological manipulation. Amazon has the X-factor of an unhealthy labor environment. Not physically edifying, it breaks the body and the spirit down.