Following a multiyear pilot, Walmart plans to roll out warehouse automation from Symbotic to drive speed and efficiency at regional distribution centers (RDCs).
Plans call for Walmart to implement Symbotic’s robotics technology in 25 of its 42 RDCs, Joe Metzger, executive vice president of supply chain operations at Walmart U.S., said in a blog post on Wednesday. The scalable system encompasses a fleet of fully autonomous robots and proprietary 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.
Metzger described Symbotic’s system as “a game-changer” for Walmart. “This move will fundamentally alter how products get to stores,” he noted.
“Right now, product arrives at one of our regional distribution centers and is either cross-docked or warehoused until we need it. The products are moved or stored manually. When it’s time for the product to go to a store, someone is tasked with packing a 53-foot trailer in a human game of Tetris for transit. When the truck arrives at a store, our associates unload it manually and get the items where they need to be,” Metzger explained. “The technology from Symbotic does things differently. This 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. 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.”
Symbotic first implemented its system at Walmart’s RDC in Brooksville, Fla., in 2017. Since then, Walmart has worked closely with the robotics and automation specialist to test the technology and optimize its use at the facility and other locations.
Metzger noted that the pilot with Symbotic builds on supply chain advances achieved through automation deployments at Walmart’s high-tech consolidation center in Colton, Calif., and its high-tech DC for fresh and frozen groceries in Shafter, Calif.
“This first-of-its-kind tech [from Symbotic], when applied at our scale, is revolutionary because it gets products onto shelves for our customers even faster, while saving time for our associates. 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,” said Metzger. “Along with saving time, limiting out-of-stocks and increasing the speed of stocking and unloading, we’ll also have the chance to train associates on how to use the new equipment, creating new skills and preparing them for jobs in the future. And because the technology decreases the need for our associates to handle freight, it removes one of the toughest aspects of supply chain work in material handling.”
Symbotic said it will now begin outfitting the 25 additional Walmart RDCs with its solution. The technology provider noted that its system will digitize Walmart’s supply facilities and help the retailer meet changing customer demand, including the creation of a frictionless experience that lets people shop when, where and how they want.
“There is no greater validation of our efforts to use technology to reimagine the warehouse and supply chain than our work with Walmart,” Symbotic CEO Rick Cohen said in a statement. “We set out more than 15 years ago to dramatically improve America’s legacy warehouses and supply chain to provide better and faster service to American consumers with new career opportunities for workers. Working with customers like Walmart has enabled us to develop this total solution and, with this trust, we are now positioned to develop Symbotic-powered warehouses around the country for years to come.”