A Reminder from Popcorn Butter

Amazon is one of the world’s largest retailers; the company shipped more than 5 billion items through Amazon Prime last year alone. During Amazon Prime Day 2016, the online retailer saw over 600 sales per second. While specific figures weren’t released for Prime Day 2017, Amazon reported that purchases increased more than 50% over the previous year. These staggering figures wouldn’t be possible without automation. Of course, a recent mishap involving popcorn butter in an Amazon warehouse reminds us that robots, machines, and automated systems aren’t perfect.

Automation is better than humans…

Automation is really good for controlling a process. When you have a lot of moving parts and pieces that depend on one another, you need the consistency and reliability of machines. The higher the volume, the more important automation becomes.

Humans simply can’t manage tens of thousands of simultaneous orders. Amazon needs automated systems to process the orders as well as robots in the warehouse to get the items where they need to go. Amazon now has more than 100,000 robots working on warehouse floors.

Of course, machines aren’t better than human workers in every aspect.

Except for when it’s not.

Chief technologist of Amazon Robotics, Tye Brady, shared a story at MIT technology Review’s EmTech Next conference.

Some popcorn butter fell off a shelving unit in one of Amazon’s fulfillment centers. The butter package popped, leaving a slippery mess and the smell of movie theater in the air.

Amazon’s warehouse robots didn’t know how to handle the butter puddle and continued to drive through it, slip, and generate an encoder error. In other words, a bit of butter being where it wasn’t supposed to be was able to give a highly sophisticated automated system a fit.

If a person saw the butter fall, they could pick it up before it caused a mess. They could avoid the butter, or they could pause to clean it up and carry on with their work.

Really, this is just a good reminder that machines are vulnerable. They need perfect conditions to operate effectively. This includes the environment they’re in as well as the machines themselves. Avoid preventable downtime with regular maintenance and inspection. Call 479-422-0390 for service, support, or repair for Indramat industrial motion control systems.