In an operational advance, Walmart has announced plans to build four new high-tech fulfillment centers including a 1.1- million-square-foot facility in Joliet, IL.
The company also announced plans to build a 1.5-million-square-foot, high-tech fulfillment center in Greencastle, PA. Walmart didn’t respond to an inquiry about the location of the other two new fulfillment centers by press time.
In a blog post published in conjunction with the expansion announcements, David Guggina, Walmart senior vice president, automation and innovation, noted the company had collaborated with Knapp, a tech business specializing in intelligent fulfillment solutions, to create an automated, high-density storage system that streamlines a manual, 12-step process into only five steps. Walmart developed the system in its Pedricktown, NJ, fulfillment center and established a system that doubled storage capacity and the number of customer orders a fulfillment center can process in a day, Guggina wrote, while providing associates more comfort.
Guggina maintained that Walmart uses its 31 dedicated e-commerce fulfillment centers and 4,700 stores located within 10 miles of 90% of the United States population to deliver digital orders at exceptional speed. However, as it moves forward, Walmart wants even better performance from the fulfillment centers it operates.
In the blog post, Guggina noted:
These FCs will be the first of their kind for Walmart, using the powerful combination of people, robotics and machine learning to set an entirely new precedent for us on the speed of fulfillment while continuing to create a positive work environment for our associates.
Most impressively, these four next generation FCs alone could provide 75% of the U.S. population with next- or two-day shipping on millions of items, including marketplace items shipped by Walmart Fulfillment Services. Combined with our traditional FCs, we can reach 95% of the U.S. population with next- or two-day shipping, and by making use of the expansive reach of our stores, we can offer same-day delivery to 80% of the U.S. population. These four next generation facilities will also collectively employ more than 4,000 associates while introducing brand new tech-focused jobs like control technicians, quality audit analysts and flow managers.
Guggina detailed how the five-step process works:
- Unload. Sellers and suppliers send merchandise in cases to one of the new Walmart FCs. As the cases arrive, associates unload trailers and place cases onto a conveyor belt where they’re routed to receiving.
- Receive. At receiving, an associate breaks the case apart, placing the individual items into a tote. The tote moves into a massive, automated storage system where a shuttle transports it to one in millions of designated locations. The storage system accounts for every square inch of the facility, spanning from floor to ceiling in a custom-built structure designed to store the inventory.
- Pick. When a customer places an online order, the system identifies the items wanted and shuttles the required totes to an associate at a picking station. Traditionally, employees would have walked up to nine miles per day, picking items from multiple floors of shelving spread out over hundreds of thousands of square feet of space, a process no longer necessary.
- Pack. The system picks a custom box to fit the measurements of the order. In the packing area, associates assemble up to four orders at once and send packages to be shipped in less than 30 minutes after the customer clicks to order, as Walmart estimates the process duration.
- Ship. The completed order gets taped, labeled and routed automatically to a designated zone where it’s then shipped to its final destination.
In launching the four new FCS, Guggina stated that Walmart’s intent is to strategically locate fulfillment centers to pair most effectively with the company’s 4,700 stores and 210 distribution centers.
Together, this system of fulfillment assets is optimized to get orders to customers fast and efficiently. In this way we show our customers they need to look no further than Walmart to get what they need, when they need it.
From building new, high-tech fulfillment centers to retrofitting our regional distribution centers, we continue to modernize and transform our supply chain by adding game-changing automation technology to our facilities. Our ability to test, embed and scale automation rapidly is powered by Walmart Control Services, a technology platform developed by Walmart Global Technology that gives us the flexibility to plug automated solutions from partners like Knapp, Symbotic and Witron, into our vast supply chain network.