Cainiao Warehouse Demystified

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Since its launch, “Double 11” has turned the online shopping festival into a national craze and hit new records for the ninth year: US$ 25.3 billion GMV; 1.3 billion packages generated in 24 hours, of which 812 million delivery orders was processed by Cainiao Network.

After unpacking our orders placed on Double 11 (it felt like Christmas!), the AGLAers began to wonder how the logistics giant Cainiao worked its magic to sort out millions of parcels within a small period:  how automated is the Cainiao warehouse? how does the staff pick & pack orders? With these questions in mind, we headed out to the very first Cainiao-owned warehouse on Nov 24, 2017.

Occupying 215 acres, the warehouse is situated in Jiaxing, about an hour drive from Hangzhou. We first arrived at the regional Double 11 “Command Room”, where we were given a brief overview of Cainiao and the warehouse: Cainiao Network was founded in 2013 and aims to drive efficiency in China’s logistics industry by connecting partners, enabling data collection and empowering a more efficient service that benefits both the collaborating parties and end-users.

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Meeting in the Cainiao Regional Double 11 “Command Center”

After lunch, we kicked off the visit with a tour around the warehouse floor. At first glance, it seemed much less hectic than we imagined: the facility is well-organized, the air is clean and noise levels are low. A large number of goods are stored by category on shelves marked with easily readable location codes – overall, a pleasant work-environment. 

Our first stop was the automated picking area: first, labels on each packing box are scanned, then the boxes ride a long conveyor belt surrounded by shelves. Designated items for orders are automatically pushed forward and the lights in front of the shelf will flash so that workers can easily pick up items and place them in the box. Although the actual “picking-up” is done by workers, this system saves a lot of time by preventing the staff from having to search specific items amongst thousands of goods.

The system is also smart enough to make an instant estimation of how big of a box is required for particular orders based on measurements of each item. We soon noticed that other than the standard Tmall Supermarket boxes (which come in 6 different sizes), seemingly random boxes also appeared from time to time. The staff explained that these were the boxes delivered by suppliers, and that they try to recycle them when they can – packaging waste has been a huge concern lately given the tremendous amount of online orders in China.

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Automatic Picking Area

Finally, we moved on to the manual picking area and there came the highlight of the day: we were given a group of real orders to pack! These orders were grouped together as there are some common items or these items are placed on shelves near to each other. The process was pretty manual: we walked around with our cart and tried to locate the items listed on each order sheet. After all items were selected, we then put the boxes on the conveyor belt – there would be another round of checking and automatic packaging before they left the warehouse.

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Automatic Packaging Line

It was definitely an eye-opening experience to see how the packages we ordered online get from the warehouse to us, as well as to experience the daily work of a Cainiao warehouse employee. This warehouse is a clear example of how Cainiao drives logistical efficiency by investing in data and technology.

We are very optimistic about Cainiao’s future. Cainiao recently launched its newest intelligent warehouse in Guangdong province this past August. It is equipped with hundreds of AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles) which improved the efficiency of manual workers tremendously.  We are all looking forward to visiting the Jiaxing warehouse again and having these cool robots in our next group photo!

It was definitely an eye-opening experience to see how the packages we ordered online get from the warehouse to us, as well as to experience the daily work of a Cainiao warehouse employee. This warehouse is a clear example of how Cainiao drives logistical efficiency by investing in data and technology.

We are very optimistic about Cainiao’s future. Cainiao recently launched its newest intelligent warehouse in Guangdong province this past August. It is equipped with hundreds of AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles) which improved the efficiency of manual workers tremendously.  We are all looking forward to visiting the Jiaxing warehouse again and having these cool robots in our next group photo!

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AGLA Class Two at Cainiao Warehouse

Written by: Yuan Fang

Edited by: Rilly Chen

Yuan Fang is a member of AGLA Class #2. She was born and raised in Hangzhou, studied & worked in Singapore and UK for 10 years before coming back to her hometown 4 months ago. Prior to joining Alibaba, Yuan worked for two American banks. She is now enjoying her time exploring a new industry and rediscovering her hometown.

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