Following is an excerpt of the full article published at WWD.
The retailer said it is teaming up with robotics company Symbotic to implement new automation technology in dozens of regional distribution centers. The technology would target the packing, storage and unloading processes, getting products to stores more quickly while requiring less rigorous manual labor, Joe Metzger, executive vice president of supply chain operations at Walmart U.S., wrote in a company post this month.
“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,” he 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.”
The move comes at a time of heightened awareness of labor conditions at retail warehouses, of the challenges of implementing social distancing in these workplaces, and of the difficulty of hiring labor for relatively low-wage roles. Such tech investments highlight some of the ways retailers might be looking to address what they see as costs and vulnerabilities in their distribution systems, experts said.
“You want to take a lot of the manual labor out of the equation,” said Stanley Lim, assistant professor of supply chain management at the University of San Diego School of Business.
“One of the issues is that when individuals are not able to come into work because of restrictions or other reasons, that reduction in labor is going to cause a problem in the ability to continue to have those products and services flow through the supply chain,” he said. “If you can take that uncertainty out of the equation, or at least run with a lower workforce, you can continue and deliver the products with a high in-stock rate to the consumer.”