In this special edition of Supply Chain Matters This Week in Supply Chain Tech, one of others to come, we highlight Walmart’s announced notions of next generation online customer fulfillment centers.


There was a super interesting announcement from retailer Walmart last week regarding an additional investment in what is described as next generation online customer fulfillment centers.

According to the announcement posted on the retailer’s web site by David Guggina, Senior Vice President of Innovation and Automation at Walmart, four next generation fulfillment centers will be built over the next three years. The first, located in Joliet, Illinois, will reportedly open this summer.

Beyond the retailer’s existing 31 dedicated E-commerce fulfillment centers, 4,700 retail stores located across the U.S., each located within 10 miles of 90 percent of the population centers, are important components of same day or pick-up and pay online services.

With the deployment of the outlined four new state-of-the art FC’s , the aim is to be able to reach 95 percent of the U.S. population with either same day, next or two-day shipping be leveraging the collective resources of all of Walmart’s online fulfilment assets including direct ship from store. These four centers are reportedly being positioned geographically to be able to pair most effectively with the existing online fulfillment network, transportation and logistics needs.

The FC’s are described as being the first of their kind for the retailer and leveraging a combination of robotics and machine learning to set a new precedent for the speed of fulfillment- “while continuing to create a positive work environment for our associates.”

Noted is that a pilot implementation in a Walmart New Jersey distribution facility doubled existing storage capacity along with doubling the number of customer orders able to be fulfilled in a day.

Technology is focused on reducing a current twelve step overall warehouse management process to a patent-pending five step process of Unload, Receive, Pick, Pack and Ship. The foundation of the technology is noted as Walmart Control Services, a tech platform developed by the retailer’s global technology group located in Silicon Valley, California, and in collaboration with stated partners KNAPP, Symbotic and Wistron.

Austria based KNAPP describes itself as a robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning technology provider. Robotic technology provided spans fully automated and networked warehouse processes along with automated mobile robots (AMR) to support transport tasks. This provider is an SAP SE partner and indicates supporting over 3,000 worldwide installations. The provider supports direct integration and enhancement to SAP’s Extended Warehouse applications.

Bavaria based Wistron supports fresh food and other specialty logistics including warehouse robotic systems. U.S. based Symbotic supports end-to-end robotics-based automation including autonomous end-to-end systems.

SVP Guggins final comments state: “We’re on an exciting journey to completely transform the way our supply chain operates, and it’s amazingly rewarding to see our associates and customers reap the benefits.”

The reality is such that like other advanced tech initiatives among various online fulfillment initiatives, there have been different journeys and approaches related to automation, and the best approach for a particular retailer, consumer or B2B goods producer. It once gain comes down to the needed and expected interaction of people, processes and the technology that is best suited to the fulfillment network and to fulfillment cost goals.

The interesting notion of Walmart’s stated approach is the selection of global based tech providers with track records of large numbers of installations and with corporate cultures that manifest continuous innovation and attention to details.

This effort bears continued observation over the coming months since Walmart’s approach to position physical stores and FC’s as cogs in online fulfillment, depending on required service levels differs from that of Amazon. The online platform provider’s latest quarterly operational and financial performance revealed an unexpected decline in online orders volumes along with an admission that the online provider invested too much in fulfillment capacity, upwards of 10 million square feet.

Over this weekend came the stunning news that Amazon’s head of the Consumer Business unit, Dave Clark, tendered is resignation.

Like all things related to industry supply chains these past months, change is a now a constant.


Bob Ferrari

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