A Fork in the Road: Walmart Bets on Associates, Automation

April 11, 2024

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At Walmart Distribution Center 6020 in Brooksville, Florida, we’re used to pioneering new technology. In fact, 6020 was Walmart’s first high-tech DC. Once again, innovation is afoot in our facility, where associates have been working alongside a new autonomous forklift system that’s bolstering their skills and bettering their jobs while building our business.

After a 16-month proof of concept, I’m proud to announce Walmart is taking another step into the future, rolling 19 autonomous forklifts across four high-tech DCs, with the potential for more as we evaluate the benefits to our associates and operations.

I believe these benefits will be wide ranging. And I should know – I’ve seen them firsthand.

As our facility has worked with Fox Robotics, the developer of the autonomous forklifts, we’ve learned a lot. But I can sum it up easily: Automation isn’t just good for business – it’s good for our associates too.

A complementary relationship

Sometimes, working smarter can look like working harder. That’s certainly how it appears in 6020, where the relationship between our associates and our automated systems is one of constant progress and higher output.

Associates are being trained to operate the FoxBot autonomous forklift, designed to fully automate the warehouse loading dock. And so far, it’s working. That’s why Walmart invested growth capital for a minority stake in Fox Robotics, demonstrating a multi-year commitment to the company and its technology.

We’ve also found FoxBot autonomous forklifts to be the perfect complement to the automated storage and retrieval system within our facility.

Here’s how they work together: Trucks arrive at our DC, and they need to be unloaded. Queue the forklifts. Using AI-powered machine vision and dynamic planning, the forklifts safely and accurately unload pallets and ferry them to be inducted into the automated storage and retrieval system, which catalogues and stores our goods. And the associate? They’re the most important part.

Sort of like playing Tetris, our associates’ new role is becoming more like a game owner. Instead of unloading the pallets manually, associates become conductors – considering the best, most efficient way to unload trailers based on their own experience. I’m watching players become coaches, and I couldn’t be more impressed.

An upward trajectory

We talk a lot about upskilling at Walmart. And that’s for good reason: We’ve invested in associate opportunity again and again, but there’s nothing quite like watching an associate learn and grow every time they clock in.

Take Jose Molina, for example. A 26-year associate, Jose has long been a part of the culture at our DC. He used to unload trucks – now he manages a complex robotics system toward the same end. And he’s proud of his progress. But not just for what it’s done to expand his mind. It’s expanding his career too.

Where Jose used to unload manually, he can now direct a FoxBot autonomous forklift to three times the same output. That means he’s building our business, increasing our DC’s productivity, and saving his lower back so he can hoist his grandchildren just a little higher after a day at work.

New Tech, New Teamwork
Walmart World talked to Jose Molina, an associate at DC 6020, who’s setting records with the help of autonomous forklifts.
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Forklifts for the future

Change doesn’t have to be tricky. As our vice president of innovation & automation, Shayne Wahlmeier said, “Our new autonomous forklift program with Fox Robotics is proof positive that when you empower associates, embrace innovation and welcome new opportunities, you’ll see growth for the business and its people.”

I’m looking forward to a bright future, led by our people and powered by our tech, to make everyone’s workday a bit better.