Walmart sets up 4 “next generation” fulfillment centers

Diving brief:

  • Walmart plans to build four high-tech distribution centers over the next three years, which will use automation, machine learning and robotics to speed up deliveries.
  • The first “next-gen” facility is set to open this summer in Joliet, Illinois, according to a post by David Guggina, senior vice president of innovation and automation at Walmart US.
  • With the addition of the four fulfillment centers, Walmart will be able to offer next-day or next-day shipping to 95% of the US population. The facilities are expected to employ 4,000 people.

Overview of the dive:

The retail giant has partnered with fulfillment technology company Knapp to develop what Guggina described as “a high-density automated storage system that streamlines a twelve-step manual process into just five steps.” .

Once merchandise arrives at a facility, an associate places the individual items into a bin which is then routed to an automated storage system. When a customer purchases an item, the system automatically picks it up and creates a custom box. The completed order is automatically logged, labeled and routed to a designated area where it will be shipped to its final destination

The process is intended to streamline the fulfillment process – for example, Walmart estimates that employees can send packages to ship in less than 30 minutes once an order is placed. But beyond speeding up deliveries, the new hubs are also reducing the amount of labor-intensive tasks for workers.

“This is a huge win for our associates, who would have traditionally walked up to nine miles a day, retrieving items from multiple floors of shelves spread over hundreds of thousands of square feet of space,” said said Guggina about the automated recovery system.

Walmart previously announced another high-tech distribution center set for Lebanon, Tennessee, which also uses a robotic retrieval system to locate items for employees.

“Our automation plan is now ready to scale,” CEO Doug McMillon said at the time. “We will invest in our distribution centers, our e-commerce distribution centers and in-market distribution centers, which in many cases will be inside or built next to our stores.”


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