Amazon Fulfillment Center Opens in Bessemer

Amazon’s first fulfillment center in Alabama (and Alabama’s first robotic center) opened in March 2020 in Bessemer with over 1,500 employees.

Out of Amazon’s 175 global fulfillment centers, this is one of only 25 that uses robots to help customers get their packages on time. 350-pound robots will work with the associates to retrieve items and process over 100,000 orders a day. Robot technology helps the associates perform tedious tasks, pick up heavier items and increases efficiency and employee safety.

This fulfillment center is 90% larger than the first center ever built by Amazon. Over 15,000 tons of steel was used to build this 4-story structure that covers 14 football fields and includes 22 miles of conveyor belts.

The developer Seefried Properties began work on the 80-acre site in June 2018. Due to the complexity of the geologic conditions and specific construction needs of the building, Seefried selected BHATE as their geotechnical engineering and testing consultant. BHATE, the only Birmingham-based firm on the design team, was chosen for our extensive geotechnical and construction design experience.

The 855,000-SF structure had tight construction tolerances to conform with Amazon’s design requirements (far beyond that of any other distribution facility) of the floor slab for use of their robot technology.

BHATE’s non-routine quality assurance testing services included:

  • Floor flatness/floor levelness testing – The design engineer preferred the data collection process and output of the Axiom 1155 over the FACE 2277.
    • We provided detailed information regarding run locations and ran profiles summarized in graphics, profile charts and tables.
  • Gloss testing – The slab had to have a maximum sheen value.
    • BHATE has the specified testing devices to perform the required testing. Detailed reporting included graphics and tables to summarize the data collected.
  • Slip resistance – The slab had to have a minimum friction value to allow the robots to stop within a specified area.
    • As with gloss testing, special equipment was required for our testing. Detailed reporting included graphics and tables to summarize the data collected.
  • Roughness – The slab’s roughness had to fall with a minimum and maximum range to allow the robots to start and stop efficiently.
    • BHATE has the specified devices for measuring roughness and performed testing at the specified frequency. Detailed reporting included graphics and tables to summarize the data collected.
  • Remediation verification – Amazon’s requirements are very particular and stringent related to the above items. We worked with the developer and contractor during remedial work, re-evaluated these areas and provided detailed documentation of corrective actions that complied with Amazon’s requirements. Our thorough recordkeeping and documentation allowed the contractor to readily locate the areas to perform remediation.

Amazon and the developer commented that our report details made it easier for them and the contractor to get the work done in a timely and satisfactory manner.

BHATE Geosciences’ services on the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Bessemer included:

  • Construction materials testing and inspections – aggregate piers, asphalt, concrete placement, earthwork, reinforcing steel, structural steel
  • Earthwork specification
  • Foundation and geotechnical design recommendations
  • Geotechnical site assessment
  • Geotechnical laboratory analysis
  • Ground penetrating radar (GPR) structural scans to locate rebar on concrete panels
  • Lime stabilization
  • Moisture vapor emission rate (MVER) testing
  • Pavement design recommendations and pavement distress evaluation
  • Settlement analysis
  • Slope analysis
  • Specification for total design-build of retaining walls
  • Stabilization of subgrade
  • Subsurface exploration and drilling – ATV drill rig, soil testing boring

The general contractor and BHATE were onsite 24/7 for 6 months to ensure timely project completion. With cross-trained in-house technicians, BHATE was able to maximize their onsite time and resources for our client.

BHATE is proud to have been part of this significant project for Jefferson County and Alabama.  We appreciate the recruitment efforts of the Alabama Department of Commerce, the Birmingham Business Alliance and Jefferson County to bring this Amazon fulfillment center to Alabama. This $325 million investment will have a significant economic annual impact on our area – over $46 million in payroll, as well as $203 million to Jefferson County’s and $232 million to Alabama’s economic output, according to the Center for Business and Economic Research in the University of Alabama’ Culverhouse School of Business.