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Walmart Aims To Revamp Regional Distribution Network With Robotics

Amid changing consumer habits and the digital transformation reshaping the retail sector, Walmart is collaborating with robotics and automation firm Symbotic to revamp its regional distribution network.

“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,” Joe Metzger, executive vice president of supply chain operations, Walmart U.S., said in an announcement.

Symbotic’s system encompasses a collection of completely autonomous robots, along with software to provide a high level of throughput and efficiency in addition to bolstering storage facility capacity.

Before implementing the Symbotic system, merchandise would arrive at a Walmart distribution hub and was repositioned or stored in a non-automated fashion. To move merchandise from the hub to one of the retailer’s brick-and-mortar locations, a person had to fill a tractor-trailer “in a human game of Tetris for transit,” as Metzger explained in a blog post.

By contrast, the Symbotic system taps into an intricate algorithm to store cases with the help of high-speed mobile bots that “speeds the intake process and increases the accuracy of freight being stored for future orders,” according to Metzger.

Moreover, the system increases building capacity through the use of “dense modular storage.” It also makes it easier for workers to unload trucks, as it harnesses high-speed palletizing robotics that make “store- and aisle-ready pallets,” according to Metzger.

“This first-of-its-kind tech, when applied at our scale, is revolutionary because it gets products onto shelves for our customers even faster, while saving time for our associates. The new way of unloading store-friendly palletized trucks will make the process faster and simpler for our associates, allowing them to spend more time with our customers,” Metzger said in the post.

Symbotic initially brought its system to the retailer’s distribution hub in Brooksville, Florida back in 2017. Since that time, Symbotic and Walmart have collaborated to make the system as effective as possible. Symbotic will now start bringing the system to 25 more regional distribution hubs.

“We set out … 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. 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,” Symbotic CEO Rick Cohen said in the announcement.

Beyond Symbotic, Nimble Robotics announced earlier this year that it had landed $50 million in a Series A financing round, a move meant to allow the firm to speed up hiring, build out its product and technology, and scale robotic deployments for fulfillment.

“Our next-gen robotics technology will allow retailers and grocers of all sizes to have the fastest and most affordable fulfillment,” Nimble Founder and CEO Simon Kalouche said in a March announcement.

From Nimble Robotics to Symbotic, technology companies are aiming to help retailers move goods from Point A to Point B in a quicker and easier manner with robotic technology amid retail’s digital transformation.

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