Walmart exec says robots will seriously speed up DC-to-store supply chain ops
Walmart announced earlier this week that it is adding robots to its regional distributions centers that 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.
The retailer, which began testing the technology from Symbotic in 2017, is deploying the robots in 25 of its 42 regional warehouses across the country.
Joe Metzger, executive vice president of supply chain operations at Walmart U.S. wrote in a company blog that, until now, the retailer’s system was to cross-dock or warehouse product that arrived at DCs 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 new system uses “first-of-its-kind tech” that works off “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.”
Mr. Metzer wrote that the new system is nothing short of “a game changer” for Walmart.
The retailer says that the use of automation may change some of the jobs that workers perform in its warehouses, but there are benefits attached to that.
“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,” Mr. Metzger wrote. “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.”
- Walmart Teams Up with Symbotic to Implement Industry-Leading Supply Chain Automation System – Walmart press release
- Chain Reaction: We’re Partnering with Symbotic to Bring High-Tech Automation to Our Supply Chain – Walmart
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think Joe Metzger means when he calls the robotics being deployed at Walmart’s regional distribution centers “a game changer” for the retailer? What will this supply chain development mean for store operations at Walmart and for those companies competing with it?