Walmart expands regional distribution automation strategy

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Walmart DC
Walmart is automating its regional distribution centers (Photo: Business Wire).

Walmart plans to transform its entire regional distribution operation.

The discount giant is extending an existing agreement with artificial intelligence (AI)-based supply chain technology company Symbiotic LLC to implement Symbotic’s robotics and software automation platform in all 42 of its regional distribution centers over the coming years. This marks an expansion of Walmart’s prior commitment announced in July 2021 to deploy Symbotic Systems in 25 of its regional distribution centers.

Walmart hopes to support a broader digital transformation in its supply chain aimed at increasing the speed, efficiency, and safety at which products are distributed. The first phase of the renovation will be completed by the end of the year. 

Since 2017, Walmart has worked with Symbotic to optimize an automated technology solution to sort, store, retrieve and pack freight onto pallets in its Brooksville, Fla., distribution center. Under Walmart’s existing system, product arrives at one of its RDCs and is either cross-docked or warehoused, while being moved or stored manually. When it’s time for the product to go to a store, a 53-ft. trailer is manually packed for transit. After the truck arrives at a store, associates unload it manually and place the items in the appropriate places.

Leveraging the Symbotic solution, an algorithm determines how to store cases like puzzle pieces using high-speed mobile robots that reduce the time of the intake process and increase the accuracy of freight being stored for future orders. This new technology investment uses a combination of AI-powered software systems, robotics and automation to sort, store, retrieve and pack merchandise onto pallets which are then shipped to stores. The solution is designed to get products onto shelves quicker.

According to Walmart, the system transforms existing RDCs into high-density, automated facilities that provide faster product intake, increased inventory accuracy and a 2X increase in building capacity. The RDC transformation model is designed to save store associates time by creating store- and aisle-ready pallets, which take the guesswork out of unloading trucks.

Walmart has already begun embedding Symbotic’s technology in select regional distribution centers throughout its network. In March 2022, Walmart made a multi-million-dollar investment in high-tech Symbiotic automation technology for its regional distribution center (RDC) in Menomonie, Wis. The retrofitting process of all 42 regional distribution centers is expected to be completed over the next eight-plus years.

“The need for accuracy and speed in the supply chain has never been more visible, and we’re confident that now is the time to move even faster by scaling Symbotic’s technology to our entire regional distribution center network,” said David Guggina, senior VP of innovation and automation, Walmart U.S. “Using high-speed robotics and intelligent software to organize and optimize inventory, the Symbotic System helps us get products to our customers quickly and seamlessly by revolutionizing how we receive and distribute products to stores.”

“The expanded partnership with Walmart substantiates how our technology is truly reinventing the traditional warehouse and distribution of consumer goods across the supply chain,” said Rick Cohen, chairman, president and chief product officer of Symbotic. “As a technology platform with deep roots in warehousing and distribution – our system addresses some of the biggest challenges of today’s complex supply chain, such as inventory agility, transportation cost and labor availability. Modernizing the warehouse allows consumers to get what they need faster and creates benefits for everyone including workers, customers and their local communities.”