Walmart has been modernizing its supply chain not only by building high-tech fulfillment centers (pictured), but also by retrofitting regional distribution centers with automation technology.
Walmart will build four next-generation fulfillment centers over the next three years, with the first opening this summer in Joliet, Ill. The others will be in Greencastle, Pa.; Lancaster, Texas; and McCordsville, Ind.
“These fulfillment centers will be the first of their kind for Walmart, using the powerful combination of people, robotics and machine learning to set an entirely new precedent for us on the speed of fulfillment while continuing to create a positive work environment for our associates,” noted David Guggina, SVP of innovation and automation, Walmart U.S., in a June 3 blog post.
According to Guggina, Walmart has partnered with Austria-based Knapp, a provider of intelligent fulfillment solutions, on an automated high-density storage system that consolidates a manual 12-step process into just five steps. “We’ve been perfecting this system in our fulfillment center in Pedricktown, N.J., and have seen how the benefits of this technology are wide-ranging and include more comfort for associates, double the storage capacity and double the number of customer orders we’re able to fulfill in a day,” he explained.
The patent-pending five-step process works as follows:
- Unload: Sellers and suppliers send merchandise in cases to a fulfillment center. As the cases arrive, associates unload the trailers and place cases onto a conveyor belt where they’re routed to receiving.
- Receive: At receiving, an associate breaks the case apart and places the individual items into a tote. The tote goes into a massive, automated storage system where a shuttle transports it to one of millions of designated locations. The storage system spans from floor to ceiling in a custom-built structure designed to hold the inventory.
- Pick: When a customer places an online order, the system retrieves their items and moves the needed totes to an associate at a picking station; associates at these stations no longer need to walk up to nine miles per day, picking items from various floors of shelving spread out over hundreds of thousands of square feet of space.
- Pack: At the same time, a custom box is created to fit the exact measurements of the order. In the pack area, the company estimates that associates can assemble as many as four orders at once and send packages to be shipped less than 30 minutes after a customer puts in an order.
- Ship: The completed order is then automatically taped, labeled, and routed to its designated zone where it’s then shipped to its final destination.
Guggina observed that by themselves, the forthcoming fulfillment centers could provide 75% of the U.S. population with next- or two-day shipping on millions of items, among them Marketplace items shipped by Walmart Fulfillment Services. The four facilities will also collectively employ 4,000-plus associates while offering new tech-focused jobs such as control technicians, quality audit analysts and flow managers.
As for why Walmart is building only four high-tech facilities, Guggina wrote: “Our priority is to strategically locate our fulfillment centers to pair most effectively with our 4,700 stores and 210 distribution centers. Together, this system of fulfillment assets is optimized to get orders to customers fast and efficiently. In this way, we show our customers they need to look no further than Walmart to get what they need, when they need it.”
The company has been modernizing its supply chain not only by building these high-tech fulfillment centers, but also by retrofitting regional distribution centers with automation technology. Its ability to test, embed and scale automation rapidly is powered by Walmart Control Services, a technology platform developed by Walmart Global Technology.
Walmart currently has 31 dedicated e-commerce fulfillment centers. Its stores are located within 10 miles of 90% of the U.S. population.
Each week, approximately 230 million customers and members visit Walmart’s more than 10,500 stores and numerous e-commerce websites under 46 banners in 24 countries. The company employs approximately 2.3 million associates worldwide. Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart U.S. is No. 1 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2022 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.