Walmart Sets the Standard with Supply Chain Automation

April 13, 2023

With over 10,000 stores and 2.2 million employees across 24 countries, Walmart is looking to leverage new frontiers in an automated supply chain to reduce costs, fulfill orders more efficiently, and improve the customer experience. 

Powered by the Walmart Global Tech team, Walmart expects that by 2026 roughly two-thirds of its stores will be serviced by some type of automation, and more than half of fulfillment center volume will move through automated facilities. Here’s how the world's largest company by revenue is already using automation, and here’s how they plan to lead in automated retail and distribution in the future. 

When customers place orders through Walmart’s website and mobile app, the company uses artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to provide personalized shopping recommendations and help customers find related products. AI also helps predict which products are likely to be ordered and where they should be stored in the warehouse to minimize the time it takes to fulfill an order. In-store, employees use AI-supported handheld devices and mobile apps to check product availability, look up prices, and place orders for out-of-stock items. 

To prepare orders, Walmart uses robots in their 200 fulfillment centers that can work around the clock to perform repetitive tasks much faster and more safely than humans. These robots automate the process of receiving, storing, and retrieving products. Walmart recently opened first of four “next generation fulfillment centers” in Joliet, Illinois, that employ a combination of people, robotics, and machine learning to fulfill orders more efficiently. 

When merchandise arrives at this next generation center, employees manually unload items and route it to receiving via conveyor belt equipped with visual recognition technology to route it to its next location, where the cases of items are further broken down. There, autonomous mobile robots place the items in one of millions of locations inside a massive inventory warehouse. When an order is received, these robots retrieve and return each item to an employee at a packing station. A custom box is created to fit the proportions of the order, employees pack the items (often with the help of robotic arms), and the box is automatically taped, labeled, and routed to the appropriate space in the center where it can be picked up for shipping within as little as 30 minutes from when the order was received. 

Additionally, Walmart uses a system called Retail Link to share real-time data with vendors that optimizes its supply chain operations. The system uses automation to help companies who sell through Walmart forecast demand, plan inventory levels, and track sales information across stores. 

To explore more efficient distribution, Walmart partnered with Cruise Self Driving Cars to launch an autonomous delivery pilot in 2022 that saw vehicles and drones support last-mile delivery to customers. These vehicles use sensors and GPS to navigate roads and avoid obstacles, allowing them to deliver products faster and more efficiently than human drivers. They have also crowdsourced delivery options with providers like Uber and Lyft and have implemented "Pickup Towers" in its stores, which are automated machines that can dispense online orders to customers for pickup in-store. 

The benefits of Walmart's automation are significant. It decreases physical demand on employees, limits workplace accidents, and helps to save time and waste, all while creating a more efficient supply chain that is setting an industry benchmark. These changes are transforming the types of jobs Walmart offers and will likely create thousands of tech-focused jobs like control technicians, quality audit analysts, and flow managers. 

With Walmart leading the way in supply chain automation, the future of the industry lies in technology and innovation. 

Capitol Technology University’s degree programs in fields like Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence and Data Science, Engineering Technologies, and Technology Management can prepare you to create the future of supply chain innovation. Visit our website and contact to learn more.