Walmart is joining forces with Wilmington, Mass.-based Symbotic to implement a high-tech automation system at 24 of the 42 distribution centers across the retailer’s regional network, a move that Joe Metzger, EVP of supply chain operations at Walmart U.S., said would “fundamentally alter how products get to stores.”
Explained Metzger in a recent blog post: “Our latest solution is an industry-leading technology system poised to transform our supply chain and make warehouse work easier for our associates. Since 2017, we’ve worked closely with Symbotic to optimize the system by testing it in our Brooksville, Fla., distribution center. The brand-new technology system works to sort, store, retrieve and pack freight onto pallets. We’re using automation to revolutionize intake, increase accuracy and change how freight is handled at our regional distribution centers (RDCs).”
Currently, product arrives at one of the RDCs and is either cross-docked or warehoused until needed. The items are moved or stored manually. When a product is sent to a store, someone packs it into a 53-foot trailer. When the truck arrives at a store, associates unload it manually and take the items where they should be.
In contrast, Symbotic’s system “uses a complex algorithm to store cases like puzzle pieces using high-speed mobile bots – operating with a precision that speeds the intake process and increases the accuracy of freight being stored for future orders,” wrote Metzger. “By using dense modular storage, it also expands building capacity. And by using high-speed palletizing robotics to organize and optimize freight, it creates custom store- and aisle-ready pallets, which take the guesswork out of unloading trucks.”
The “revolutionary” tech will get products onto shelves faster, reduce out-of-stocks, and save time and effort for associates, who are then freed up to help customers, he added, noting that Walmart would also be able to train employees on how to use the new equipment, giving them new skills and preparing them for future roles.
Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart operates more than 10,500 stores under 58 banners in 27 countries, and e-commerce websites, employing 2.2 million-plus associates worldwide. Walmart U.S. is No. 1 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2021 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America, while Walmart-owned Sam's Club ranks No. 9 on the list.