Following is an excerpt of the full article written by Mark Friedman at Arkansas Business.
The Bentonville retail giant, locked in brutal combat with Amazon for online sales, is counting on Symbotic, an automation firm based in Wilmington, Massachusetts, to overhaul Walmart’s regional distribution network.
Walmart said it will use Symbotic’s system in 25 of its 42 regional distribution centers. “This move will fundamentally alter how products get to stores,” a top executive wrote in a company blog post last month.
Now, shipments arriving at distribution centers are manually unloaded or stored until they’re needed at stores. Then employees have to pack the 53-foot trailers “in a human game of Tetris for transit,” wrote Joe Metzger, executive vice president of supply chain operations at Walmart U.S. “When the truck arrives at the store, our associates unload it manually and get the items where they need to be.”
Symbotic’s system “uses a complex algorithm to store cases [of merchandise] like puzzle pieces using high-speed mobile bots — that speeds the intake process and increases the accuracy of freight being stored for future orders.”
Automation should help Walmart cut costs, said Patrick Penfield, professor of supply chain management at the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. “They’ll be able to get things out the door faster, and it’s going to make them more efficient,” he said.
Stanley Lim, an assistant professor of supply chain management at Michigan State University, said Walmart’s move to partner with Symbotic isn’t a surprise. “It’s been in the pipeline for several years,” he said. Walmart has worked with Symbotic since 2017 and placed Symbotic’s system in the retailer’s Brooksville, Florida, distribution center. Since then, the companies have worked together on refinements.
Lim said the partnership makes sense as e-commerce sales are soaring. “Walmart can increase the capacity for fulfilling the demand of the consumer and reduce the cost of performing and delivering items to the consumer,” he said.