Eighteen engineering students had the opportunity to tour the local fulfillment center of e-commerce giant Amazon this February. Dr. Aldo McLean organized the tour as part of his Logistics Management and Value Engineering courses, and invited students in Engineering Management Design and Material Management to join as well.
Serving as a more hands-on learning activity, the tour helped students tangibly relate the engineering and management skills they learn in class to a work environment.
“The Amazon tour is a great example of a fusion between basic and complex logistics principles in one place,” said McLean. “You can experience storage, order picking, material handling, order processing, receiving, shipping, optimization, and other operations on one tour.”
In addition to observing these operations, the tour allowed students to ask detailed questions about processes like facility planning and work flow, as well as questions about internships and job opportunities after college. Specific questions asked by students regarded inventory allocation, drone logistics, and managerial processes. Students were most excited about seeing how “such a big company operates and functions,” and how the “massive amount of inventory” is handled.
Opened in September 2011, the Chattanooga Amazon Fulfillment Center is one million square feet, has over 2,000 employees, and can house 20 million items or more at any given time. It’s no surprise, then, that students were impressed by the scale and complexity of operations. When asked about the experience, students commented on the “organization of people and products,” the equipment used, and “how smoothly things worked.”
“The most memorable part was learning the entire process of how [the facility] operates,” said student Cole Gallagher.
Chattanooga’s fulfillment center is one of six Amazon sites in the country that allow public tours.
“It’s right in our backyard, and the tour coordinator at Amazon is fantastic and very helpful,” said McLean. “I continue to request and schedule tours for my students, colleagues, and other enthusiasts of logistics operations. Everyone I know is interested to see how the products they purchase online are processed and sent to them. It’s like wondering where the electricity or water you use comes from. The Amazon tour fills a knowledge gap we have about some logistics operations.”
After the tour, McLean reviews Amazon’s fulfillment logistics—“from their storage system to shipping and distribution structure”—in his Logistics Management course to make sure that students understand and can apply what they learned on the tour.
“I hope the experience makes a difference for them and for the firm some of them are working for,” he said. McLean will continue to schedule tours to Amazon and other facilities that he feels can help enhance the information his students are learning in class.