Walmart aims to automate all its regional distribution centers under an expanded partnership with artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics specialist Symbotic.
Plans call for Walmart to deploy Symbotic’s robotics and software automation platform at all 42 of its regional DCs, the companies said Monday. Last July, Walmart announced that Symbotic’s technology would be implemented in 25 regional DCs.
“The need for accuracy and speed in the supply chain has never been more visible, and we’re confident that now is the time to move even faster by scaling Symbotic’s technology to our entire regional distribution center network,” David Guggina, senior vice president of innovation and automation at Walmart U.S. said in a statement. “Using high-speed robotics and intelligent software to organize and optimize inventory, the Symbotic System helps us get products to our customers quickly and seamlessly by revolutionizing how we receive and distribute products to stores.”
The scalable system encompasses a fleet of fully autonomous robots and AI-powered software to improve throughput while boosting warehouse capacity, according to Wilmington, Mass.-based Symbotic, which said its solution will cut the time it takes to unload, sort and stock freight in Walmart stores.
To that end, Symbotic’s technology builds palletized loads of department-sorted inventory, allowing Walmart to get products onto shelves at its more than 4,700 stores more quickly. Symbotic noted that its platform will help modernize the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer’s supply chain by speeding the response to store orders, sharpening inventory accuracy and increasing the capacity for receiving and shipping freight to stores.
Other benefits include making material handling simpler and safer and creating new, tech-enabled jobs, such as cell operator and maintenance technician, that offer widely applicable skills in robotics and technology, Symbotic said.
Walmart said it has already begun embedding Symbotic’s technology in selected regional DCs across its network. The retrofit of the platform in all 42 sites is expected to be completed over the next eight-plus years, the companies said.
“The expanded partnership with Walmart substantiates how our technology is truly reinventing the traditional warehouse and distribution of consumer goods across the supply chain,” stated Rick Cohen, chairman, president and chief product officer at Symbotic. “As a technology platform with deep roots in warehousing and distribution, our system addresses some of the biggest challenges of today’s complex supply chain, such as inventory agility, transportation cost and labor availability. Modernizing the warehouse allows consumers to get what they need faster and creates benefits for everyone including workers, customers and their local communities.”
Walmart has been steadily bolstering its supply chain capacity, including through the use of automation, to support rising demand, improve the customer experience and raise productivity. Besides the regional DC partnership with Symbotic, Walmart said in March that it plans to add a 1 million-square-foot DC to its supply-chain campus in Baytown, Texas, near Houston. The new DC is slated to open this fall and will be Walmart’s fourth facility in Baytown, enlarging the campus’ total space to more than 5 million square feet.
This past October, Walmart unveiled plans to build a high-tech DC for fresh and frozen food in Lyman, S.C., which will be the retailer’s biggest grocery DC to date. Due to open in 2024, the more than 720,000-square-foot facility will move twice as much grocery product — including perishables such as produce, eggs, dairy, flowers and frozen goods — in supplying area stores via a combination of manual labor and automation, robotics and machine learning technology, the retailer reported.
About two weeks later, in November, Walmart announced plans to construct two high-tech DCs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The project in Lancaster, Texas, includes a 1.5 million-square-foot automated fulfillment center expected to open in 2023 and a 730,000-square-foot automated grocery DC slated to open in 2024. Walmart said the facilities will be among the largest automated fulfillment and distribution centers in its network.
Walmart, too, is adding e-commerce fulfillment centers (EFC), which store millions of items ordered via Walmart.com to be picked, packed and shipped directly to customers, whereas distribution centers focus on receiving, storing and distributing product to Walmart stores. In March, the company announced plans to build a 1.8 million-square-foot EFC in Shippensburg, Pa. Also upcoming are a 1 million-square-foot EFC in Olive Branch, Miss., a 1 million-square-foot EFC in Salt Lake City and a 925,000-square-foot automated EFC in Lebanon, Tenn.