Walmart is bringing its robotics efforts to the next level by automating 25 of its 47 regional distribution centers through a partnership with Symbotic. The new capabilities will help the retail giant speed up intake, boost accuracy and change how it handles freight at the upgraded facilities.
Currently, Walmart stores its inventory until needed, at which point the items are manually packed onto a 53-foot trailer and shipped to the store that needs them. The unloading process is handled by store associates, who are charged with getting the products where they need to be.
The Symbotic technology changes the process by using an algorithm to determine optimal storage placement and high-speed mobile robots to speed up the intake process. This expands the capacity of every building by keeping inventory denser and speeds up the unloading process by creating store- and aisle-ready pallets that make associates’ tasks easier.
Walmart also plans to upskill its associates with knowledge about how to use the new equipment, which will better prepare them for future jobs and reduce the need to directly handle freight.
“This first-of-its-kind tech, when applied at our scale, is revolutionary because it gets products onto shelves for our customers even faster, while saving time for our associates,” said Joe Metzger, EVP of Supply Chain Operations at Walmart U.S. in a statement. “The new way of unloading store-friendly, palletized trucks will make the process faster and simpler for our associates, allowing them to spend more time with our customers.”
Walmart and Symbotic have been working together since 2017, when the companies launched a pilot of the automation system at a Brooksville, Fla. distribution center. The companies have also tested automation at a consolidated warehouse in Colton, Calif. and a grocery warehouse in Shafter, Calif.
The expanded partnership is part of Walmart’s $14 billion in planned capital expenditure for fiscal 2021. Automation and supply chain are two of the key areas of focus, along with improvements to the customer experience.