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Walmart’s Latest Next-Gen Fulfillment Trial: Automated Packaging

Walmart is broadening its sustainable packaging horizons.

Already committed to achieving 100 percent recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable packaging by 2025, the retail giant is teaming with an innovator in the space to cut packaging waste at some of its high-tech distribution centers.

Sustainable, on-demand, right-sized packaging systems provider Packsize has introduced the Ultra5, a fully automated, on-demand box packaging machine built around the company’s recently announced X5 technology, within multiple Walmart fulfillment centers (FCs).

The Ultra5 machine was created exclusively for Walmart and has already been installed in one of the first four of the mass merchant’s next-generation FCs. Walmart has not clarified which fulfillment centers will implement the Packsize technology.

“By working with Packsize to develop the Ultra5 machine, we created an innovative packaging solution that tailors each box to the items we are shipping to customers, eliminating unnecessary waste and improving the unboxing experience once the package arrives,” said Prathibha Rajashekhar, senior vice president, innovation and automation, Walmart U.S., in a statement. “In keeping with our commitment to becoming a regenerative company, the Ultra5 solution is a win for our customers, the business and our planet.”

Ultra5 can produce up to 600 boxes per hour, with Packsize saying it provides “the highest packaging throughput in the industry for its class,” while curbing waste and emissions.

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The machine can have orders packed, labeled and ready to ship in as little as 30 minutes, Packsize says. The Ultra5 also includes a “flaps down” feature, allowing boxes to flow through the packaging process by placing a paper band around the flaps to secure them to the sides of the box.

By right-sizing boxes, the technology aims to minimize the costs and environmental impact of extraneous corrugated boxes. It can also improve parcel logistics, enabling retailers to fit up to 33 percent more boxes on freight and delivery carriers and get more orders to customers daily.

“Walmart’s fulfillment network and addition of four next-generation FCs are not just a game-changer, but a testament to the ever-evolving landscape of e-commerce,” said Rod Gallaway, CEO of Packsize, in a statement. “They have embraced cutting-edge and innovative technology, like our Ultra5 machine, and taken bold steps to streamline their fulfillment processes. Packsize is proud to work with Walmart to help set a new standard for customer convenience, satisfaction and e-commerce order fulfillment.”

In February, Packsize unveiled its X5 solution, a fully automated packaging system that produces ready-to-pack, right-sized erected boxes. The X5, like all Packsize solutions, is aimed at reducing packaging waste caused by boxes that are too big for their contents, while also reducing the need for void fillers like plastic air pillows, slashing shipping emissions and improving the end consumer’s overall experience.

E-commerce electronics retailer Crutchfield was one of the first to implement the X5 system in its warehouses.

Packsize said it produced 750 million perfectly sized boxes in 2021 alone. Aside from Walmart, the company’s largest retail partnerships include Boot Barn and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Last year, Boot Barn introduced Packsize’s packaging platform in its 140,000-square-foot Wichita, Kan. facility, building out an automated inline fulfillment system that now moves up to 1,000 packages every hour. Dick’s Sporting Goods also uses the Packsize EM Series system at its 600,000-square-foot Smithton, Pa. distribution center, to produce right-sized boxes that are an estimated 26 percent less corrugated, reducing costs and environmental impact.

At both retailers’ distribution centers, employees scan and load SKUs into the system to ship products out in the boxes instead of packaging by hand, reducing the likelihood of damage and increasing packaging efficiency even for complex orders.

Meanwhile, Walmart’s Packsize partnership is the latest way the retailer is trying to address packaging waste across the supply chain. As part of its larger sustainability ambitions, Walmart debuted its Circular Connector in 2022, which is a tool designed to link companies that need sustainable packaging solutions with innovators that offer them. The Circular Connector offers a public download of packaging solutions that align with Walmart’s sustainable packaging goals.

Organizations that produce sustainable packaging or ingredients that can be used in the process can submit information to Walmart for evaluation through this tool, with the packaging potentially considered for use by some of its own private brands.

Solutions entered into Walmart’s Circular Connector are automatically considered for recognition through the U.S. Plastics Pact’s Sustainable Packaging Innovation Award program.

“Our hope with making Circular Connector open source is that it propels companies to move faster to make design changes that will help create a circular economy for plastics, even our direct competitors,” said Ashley Hall, Walmart’s director, strategic programs, in a blog post. “Sustainable packaging changes can’t happen in a silo and require lifecycle thinking. Today we still have packages that can cause confusion for customers: Is it recyclable? Compostable? Wait…I need to remove a label before it can be recycled? And on and on.”