- Walmart plans to build four high-tech fulfillment centers over the next three years that will utilize automation, machine learning and robotics to speed up deliveries.
- The first “next-generation” facility is scheduled to open this summer in Joliet, Illinois, according to a company post from David Guggina, senior vice president of innovation and automation at Walmart U.S.
- With the addition of the four fulfillment centers, Walmart will be able to offer next- or two-day shipping to 95% of the U.S. population. The facilities are expected to employ 4,000 people.
The retail giant partnered with fulfillment tech company Knapp to develop what Guggina described as “an automated, high-density storage system that streamlines a manual, twelve-step process into just five steps.”
Once merchandise arrives at a facility, an associate will place the individual items into a tote that is then shuttled to an automated storage system. When a customer purchases an item, the system retrieves it automatically and creates a custom-fitting box. The completed order is automatically taped, labeled and routed to a designated zone where it will be shipped off to its final destination
The process is meant to optimize the fulfillment process — for example, Walmart estimates workers can send packages to be shipped in less than 30 minutes once an order is placed. But beyond speeding up deliveries, the new centers also reduce the amount of labor-intensive tasks for workers.
“This is a huge win for our associates, who traditionally would have walked up to nine miles per day, picking items from multiple floors of shelving spread out over hundreds of thousands of square feet of space,” Guggina said of the automated retrieval system.
Walmart previously announced another high-tech fulfillment center set for Lebanon, Tennessee, that also makes use of a robotic retrieval system to locate items for employees.
“Our automation plan is now ready to scale,” CEO Doug McMillon said then. “We’ll be investing in our distribution centers, our e-commerce fulfillment centers and in market fulfillment centers, which will, in many cases, be inside of or built beside our stores."