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Walmart Banks on Bots for 25 Distribution Centers

Walmart is planning high-tech changes for its distribution network as companies increasingly looking to automated solutions in their warehouse operations.

The retailer will be expanding its high-tech automation system in 25 distribution centers to create a network in partnership with Symbotic, which implemented its first system with Walmart at the chain’s Brooksville, Fla., distribution center in 2017. Since then, the pair has been fine-tuning the deployment.

“The digital transformation happening today, alongside evolving customer habits, is reshaping the retail industry,” said Joe Metzger, executive vice president of supply chain operations for Walmart U.S.. “To serve customers now, and in the future, our business must provide the right tools and training to our associates so they can deliver the items our customers want, when they want them, with unmatched convenience. We’re investing in our supply chain at an unprecedented scale in order to optimize that process end-to-end.”

When Walmart posted first-quarter results in May, CEO Doug McMillon said the company aimed to be the “best first place that people shop” with store remodels, pickup and delivery investments.

Last month, Walmart invested in DroneUp to continue to develop scalable last-mile delivery solutions after first partnering with the firm last year to launch trial deliveries of at-home Covid-19 self-collection kits and trim drop-off times from hours to mere minutes.

Symbotic CEO Rick Cohen said there’s “no greater validation” than Walmart’s decision to expand the relationship.

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“We set out more than 15 years ago to dramatically improve America’s legacy warehouses and supply chain to provide better and faster service to American consumers with new career opportunities for workers,” he added. “Working with customers like Walmart has enabled us to develop this total solution and with this trust we are now positioned to develop Symbotic-powered warehouses around the country for years to come.”

Walmart said using Symbotic’s system will better modernize and digitize its existing supply chain facilities and support evolving customer demand.  A video on Symbotic’s website says its system is “3 times faster than any other palletizing solution on the market” as bots travel up to 25 miles per hour. Symbotics claims its system has “less than one error per 1 million cases.”

According to Walmart, which will train employees on the technology, the new system also creates better jobs for associates.

“Symbotic’s scalable, integrated system deploys a fleet of fully autonomous robots in combination with proprietary software to deliver industry-best throughput and efficiency, while increasing warehouse capacity. With the new system in place, it will help reduce the time it takes to unload, sort, and stock freight in Walmart stores,” it said.

Walmart will expand Symbotic's autonomous robotic technology system from a single distribution center in Florida to 25 other DCs.
Symbotics claims its system has “less than one error per 1 million cases.” Courtesy

Meanwhile, Fetch Robotics, a specialist in cloud robotics, announced a new integrated case pick-to-pallet solution on Wednesday with Körber, a German supply-chain solutions provider.

The new solution dynamically orchestrates the movement of warehouse associates and robots, combining the power of Fetch’s Freight500 and Freight1500 autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) with the optimization capabilities of Körber’s warehouse management systems, supporting case picking workflows for facilities of all sizes.

Warehouse needs have risen dramatically over the past year, as a surge in consumer spending has increased demands on distribution centers, Fetch Robotics noted. Additionally, distribution organizations face longstanding labor challenges. This includes hiring and retaining skilled staff, accommodating seasonal fluctuations and relying on temporary workers to operate forklifts.

“Warehouses today are contending with record order volumes and limited access to labor, and need flexible solutions more than ever before,” Stefan Nusser, chief product officer at Fetch Robotics, said. “Our new case picking solution enables customers to achieve safer, more efficient case picking in facilities of all sizes.”

Fetch noted that the traditional case pick-to-pallet workflow can be time-consuming, complicated and lead to congestion in warehouse aisles.

The new case picking solution from Fetch and Körber enables zone-based picking, which keeps employees in aisles and enhances picking across numerous orders. This workflow leverages pick path optimization functionality from the Körber WMS, which directs AMRs to the correct locations in the correct sequence for optimal pallet build. This solution can be deployed via RF scanners, voice picking or along with vision-based picking solutions.

“Fetch Robotics continues to develop cutting-edge automated warehouse solutions and this new integrated case pick-to-pallet solution will help speed up fulfillment, improve safety and enhance workflows for our customers worldwide, Nishan Wijemanne, global leader for AMR/Robotics, Körber Business Area Supply Chain, said.

While this new solution addresses case picking, Fetch’s AMRs can also be combined with Körber’s WMS to optimize discrete order picking, batch picking and replenishment. Together, the companies also offer automated pallet-based workflows such as cross docking, putaway, replenishment, and returns. Fetch’s broad portfolio of AMRs can also be used to automate virtually any material movement, including recycling/trash removal, putaway, milk runs, urgent orders and other tasks that require an associate to manually move material.

Fetch Robotics is an intralogistics automation company headquartered in Silicon Valley, California. By combining autonomous mobile robotics with the power of the cloud, the Fetch Cloud Robotics Platform provides on-demand automation solutions for material handling and inventory management, with the power to find, track, and move almost anything in any facility. Fetch Robotics’ solutions and services are deployed in leading distribution, fulfillment, and manufacturing centers around the world, augmenting workforces to drive increased efficiency and productivity.