Driverless trucks to keep Sam’s Club in-stock around the clock

Photo: Gatik
Jun 08, 2022

Thirty-four Sam’s Club locations in the Dallas/Fort  Worth area will soon be receiving shipments of Quilted Northern toilet paper and Dixie products via autonomous 26-foot box trucks.

The deliveries, which will begin next month, will be made with six Class 6 trucks that will replace traditional Class 8 tractor trailers. Gatik, the technology provider, and Georgia-Pacific, the product vendor, believe that using the autonomous vehicles will “the cadence of delivery runs and the flow of goods, while reducing logistics costs and enabling near real-time inventory fulfillment,” according to a press release.

“KBX (the transportation arm of Koch Industries and an independent company) is focused on providing services that increase capacity and reduce costs in a safe, efficient way for the customers we serve,” said Paul Snider, president of KBX, in a statement. “Our partnership with Gatik will enable us to redefine the traditional class 8 short-haul market and deliver Georgia-Pacific goods with even greater speed and efficiency. We’re excited to see these operations form the foundation of KBX’s Autonomous Vehicle Program, as we prepare for wider-scale adoption of autonomous trucks to meet customer demand.”

Hayes Shimp, vice president of sales for Georgia-Pacific, said that autonomous truck deliveries “will enable us to remove cost and complexity from the supply chain so that we can better serve Sam’s Club, and their members.”

The Sam’s Club pilot is part of Walmart’s ongoing efforts to test autonomous vehicles for middle- and last-mile deliveries. The retailer has engaged with Argo AI/Ford, Gatik and Nuro on a variety of pilots in recent years.

Walmart, last year, began a pilot with Gatik to use box trucks to make daily deliveries from a dark store to a Neighborhood Market in Arkansas. Two driverless trucks followed a seven-mile loop daily over the course of 12 hours to deliver goods to the location.

“We’ve identified that autonomous box trucks offer an efficient, safe and sustainable solution for transporting goods on repeatable routes between our stores,” Tom Ward, senior vice president of last mile at Walmart U.S., said last November in a statement.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think autonomous box trucks will be largely able to replace traditional tractor middle-mile deliveries to retailers in the future? Where do you see the biggest potential benefits from the use of autonomous vehicles within the supply chain?

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8 Comments on "Driverless trucks to keep Sam’s Club in-stock around the clock"

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Mark Ryski

Autonomous delivery trucks are the future, and the future is now. Cost effective delivery remains a huge cost focus, and autonomous delivery is a potentially game-changing solution. Notwithstanding the operational challenges of running an autonomous fleet, this example is proof that meaningful progress is being made. Given the many challenges that the trucking industry is facing with the lack of drivers and the inability to attract more, I see autonomous being a big part of the future.

Lisa Goller

The evolution to box truck deliveries hinges on safe, successful pilots and regulatory support. Autonomous trucks that serve fulfilment centers and the last mile would improve availability, efficiency and the customer experience.

Gary Sankary

I absolutely believe that autonomous vehicles are coming and that logistics and movement of freight will be almost 100 percent supported by these vehicles. The value proposition for this is just too compelling. Reduced dependency on human drivers, 24/7 availability of the asset to move goods, and safety — it’s a very significant list. Enough so to continue to incent investments in this technology. We’re not quite there yet, but this is the future, and retailers who manage their own logistics networks need to be investing now in the infrastructure to be ready for when this is prime time.

Scott Norris

Property managers and developers should be thinking a few steps ahead to accommodate automated cargo vehicles – optimized docks and dedicated access lanes to make the “last mile” even smoother, for instance. No reason that the vehicle profile ultimately has to look like a conventional box truck, either. You could even have intermodal applications where the auto-truck picks up right from a rail yard, eliminating the distribution center altogether! The next five years should see rapid evolution and it will be exciting to watch.

David Spear

Technology is driving innovative use cases that fill a huge void right now with our truck driver shortages. Assuming these driver-less vehicles can operate safely, efficiently and can be re-directed during unforeseen situations with as good or better performance than with a human driver, I see every reason to deploy driverless trucks as quickly as possible. And the biggest upside is 24 hour operations. Like bots – which operate all the time with little to no mistakes — driverless vehicles can be working all the time, making operations more efficient, safe and productive. This is very exciting!

Gene Detroyer

We hear continually about autonomous passenger automobiles. Yet real progress is being made by developing trucks of all varieties. The Walmart pilot is significant. But so is Amazon’s order of 100,000 short and medium-haul autonomous trucks over the next five years. Orders like the Amazon one are a foundation for manufacturers to get very serious about manufacturing scale and ongoing technological improvements.

We have written in the past about the ills of the drivers in the trucking industry, which is short of 90,000 drivers and has almost 100 percent annual turnover. Eventually, much of that will go away. The savings in autonomous trucking are extraordinary and could cut 50 percent or more of costs.

Ananda Chakravarty

Yes. However the real value will be long haul before adoption in the middle mile. Long haul highway — Port to DCs will drive the most value because we’ll see the most adoption here first. These are fixed highway trips, usually the highest demand for the most amount of goods. Store deliveries will be overshadowed by the value and adoption cycle in long haul trucking initially.

Holden Bale

While I agree with everyone that autonomous freight is going to be a real unlock, we have to remember there’s still a patchwork regulatory quilt for autonomous vehicles that are in some way as much a blocker, if not more, than some of the technical issues with more nimble “last-mile AV” (e.g., stuff that can deliver to your doorstep where routes aren’t consistent/as pre-configured).

Governments need to get ahead of this technology and start thinking about what it looks like for freight to move inter-state at scale or else these pilots are going to stay “pilots” and hyper-local in their impact.

"This is the future, and retailers who manage their own logistics networks need to be investing now in the infrastructure to be ready for when this is prime time."

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