BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Walmart said this week it plans to build four next-generation fulfillment centers that, combined with its existing facilities, will let it offer 95% of the U.S. population next- or two-day shipping on their online orders.
The new facilities, the first of which is set to open this summer in Joliet, Ill., will use a combination of people, robotics and machine learning to make the fulfillment of online orders faster and more efficient, the company said.
In a blog post, David Guggina, senior vice president of innovation and automation at Walmart U.S., described the new fulfillment centers and why they are unique.
“For starters, we’ve partnered with Knapp, a tech company for intelligent fulfillment solutions, to develop an automated, high-density storage system that streamlines a manual, twelve-step process into just five steps,” Guggina said. “We’ve been perfecting this system in our fulfillment center in Pedricktown, N.J., and have seen how the benefits of this technology are wide-ranging and include: more comfort for associates, double the storage capacity, and double the number of customer orders we’re able to fulfill in a day.
“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 Walmart’s patent-pending, five-step process works:
- Unload: Sellers and suppliers send merchandise in cases to an FC. As the cases arrive, associates unload the trailers and place cases onto a conveyor belt where they’re routed to receiving.
- Receive: At receiving, an associate breaks the case apart and places the individual items into a tote. The tote is whisked away into a massive, automated storage system where a shuttle transports it to one of millions of designated locations. The storage system is designed to account for every square-inch, spanning from floor to ceiling in a custom-built structure designed to hold the inventory.
- Pick: When a customer places an online order, the system goes into action, retrieving their items and shuttling the needed totes to an associate at a picking station. This is a huge win for our associates, who traditionally 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.
- Pack: Simultaneously, a custom box is created to fit the exact measurements of the order and sent to an associate for packing. In the pack area, we estimate associates can assemble up to four orders at once and send packages to be shipped in less than 30 minutes after the customer clicks to order.
- Ship: The completed order is then automatically taped, labeled, and routed to its designated zone where it’s then shipped to its final destination.
So why is Walmart only building four of these next generation fulfillment centers?
“Our priority is to strategically locate our FCs to pair most effectively with our 4,700 stores and 210 distribution centers,” Guggina explained in his post. “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.
Walmart said the opening of the 1.1 million square foot Joliet, Ill., facility this summer will provide Walmart customers across Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin with access to next- or two-day shipping on millions of items. It will be followed by the opening of a 2.2 million square foot facility in McCordsville, Ind., in the spring of 2023 that will allow Walmart to offer that same level of service to customers across Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio.
A facility in Lancaster, Texas, set to open in the fall of 2023, will expand that capability to Texas and Oklahoma. And then the fourth facility in Greencastle, Pa., set to open in 2024, will bring that same level of service to customers across Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.
“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 said.