Walmart to expand robotics and drone partnerships

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 664 views 

Walmart is expanding tech partnerships like the DroneUp program that has been making online order deliveries from the Walmart in Farmington, Ark. (photo from Walmart)

Walmart Inc. and tech company Symbotic announced a new agreement to place Symbotic’s robotics and software automation platform in Walmart’s 42 regional distribution centers. The deal builds on the prior commitment to deploy Symbotic’s system in 25 distribution centers.

Walmart said the end-to-end software-enabled robotics platform will support the company’s goals of modernizing its supply chain operations for increased efficiency including increased capacity, faster order responsiveness and accuracy on shipments to customers and stores.

“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,” David Guggina, senior vice president of innovation and automation, Walmart U.S., said Tuesday (May 24). “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.”

He said the technology’s ability to build palletized loads of department-sorted inventory will enable Walmart to more quickly get products onto shelves at its more than 4,700 stores, while also making one of the toughest aspects of supply chain work – material handling – safer and simpler. It also creates new, tech-enabled jobs, such as cell operator and maintenance technician, that offer widely applicable skills in robotics and technology.

“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, Symbotic chairman, president and chief product officer. “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.”

Walmart said the company has already begun embedding the technology in select distribution centers throughout its network and all 42 regional distribution centers will be retrofitted with the Symbotic systems over the next eight years.

DELIVERY DRONES
Also Tuesday, Walmart and Drone-Up announced an expanded express delivery operation based on a test program in Farmington. Walmart said it will expand the DroneUp delivery network to 34 sites by the end of the year. The retailer said the expanded network will reach 4 million U.S households across six states: Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Texas, Utah and Virginia. Walmart said this increased drone-delivery capacity is 1 million packages a year.

Express delivery is where customers can have items delivered to their doorsteps in as little as two hours with the DroneUp service that will be available between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m and include thousands of items such as Tylenol, diapers or hot dog buns. There is a 10-pound weight limit for the drone air deliveries and a $3.99 fee for the 30-minute guarantee.

Guggina said participating stores will house a DroneUp delivery hub with certified pilots operating within FAA guidelines. Once a customer places an order, the item is fulfilled from the store, packaged, loaded into the drone and delivered to their yard using a cable that lowers the package.

“The customer has always been at the center of our focus at Walmart, and we look for partners that are as laser-focused on customer experience as we are. DroneUp has been a reliable partner as we’ve tested this solution and their capabilities will enable our business to scale with speed while maintaining a high caliber of safety and quality,” he said.