July 14, 2021
By Joe Metzger, Executive Vice President of Supply Chain Operations at Walmart U.S.
Placing that final piece in a puzzle, or getting that sudden rush of insight, is so gratifying, because it represents a new idea and a new way forward. At Walmart, this isn’t just an analogy. We’re problem solving at scale, and we place new pieces every day.
Our latest solution is an industry-leading technology system poised to transform our supply chain and make warehouse work easier for our associates. Since 2017, we’ve worked closely with Symbotic to optimize the system by testing it in our Brooksville, Florida, distribution center. The brand-new technology system works to sort, store, retrieve and pack freight onto pallets. We’re using automation to revolutionize intake, increase accuracy and change how freight is handled at our regional distribution centers (RDCs).
You may recall previously we announced high-tech improvements we were testing in Colton, California, in our consolidation network and Shafter, California, in our grocery network. Today, we’re proud to announce our partnership with Symbotic to implement their high-tech automation system in our regional network. We plan to implement this technology in 25 of our 42 RDCs. This move will fundamentally alter how products get to stores. But to understand exactly how that’ll work, and why it’s such a big deal, it’s helpful to understand a bit about how it works now.
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.
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.
In short, this is a game changer.
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. 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.
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.
Though very few Walmart customers will ever see into our warehouses, they’ll still be able to witness an industry-leading change, each time they find a product on shelves. There may be no way to solve all the complexities of a global supply chain, but we plan to keep changing the game as we use technology to transform the way we work and lead our business into the future.