Robots and drones and Walmart’s supply chain, oh my
Walmart is motivated to get automated.
The retailing giant yesterday said that it is expanding its use of robotics to all 42 of its regional distribution centers around the U.S. In another release today, Walmart revealed that it is expanding its use of drones and will have the potential to deliver weight appropriate orders to as many as four million customers.
Walmart’s decision to complete its rollout of robotics and software automation platform from Symbotic has been heralded as nothing short of transformational for its supply chain operations.
Robots in the distribution centers sort, store, retrieve and pack freight onto pallets. The initiative is designed to move products from DCs to stores with a greater degree of accuracy and speed than ever before.
Walmart’s previous system was set up to cross-dock or warehouse product that arrived at its warehouses until it was needed in stores. This process was handled manually by warehouse personnel. When stores were ready for the merchandise, DC workers would have to figure out how to efficiently pack a 53-foot trailer, which would be manually unloaded when arriving at a store.
“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, Walmart U.S., said in a statement.
The process of automating Walmart’s regional distribution system will take time. The company says the retrofitting process will take eight-plus years to complete.
Mr. Guggina, this morning in a corporate blog, wrote that Walmart is extending its coverage area for delivering customer orders via drone.
Walmart will make drone deliveries to 34 sites located across six states — Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah and Virginia — in partnership with DroneUp. The retailer, which has been running Federal Aviation Administration approved drone tests since 2020, could make more than one million deliveries a year in its new coverage areas.
Mr. Guggina writes that customers have responded both positively and unexpectedly to the chain’s drone service.
“While we initially thought customers would use the service for emergency items, we’re finding they use it for its sheer convenience, like a quick fix for a weeknight meal,” wrote Mr. Guggina. “Case in point: The top-selling item at one of our current hubs is Hamburger Helper.”
- Walmart and Symbotic Expand Partnership to Implement Industry-Leading Automation System – Symbotic LLC
- We’re Bringing the Convenience of Drone Delivery to 4 Million U.S. Households in Partnership with DroneUp – Walmart
- Walmart fulfillment centers will take productivity to a new level – RetailWire
- Walmart pilots its way into the drone delivery race – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What are your takeaways from Walmart’s news about its expanded use of robotics in its regional warehouses and for last-mile delivery via drone? How do these align with other ways the retailer is automating its business?