Walmart Teams Up with Robotic Resources

Robo assets help the retailing giant accomplish more, faster.

October 22, 2018

BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Innovation is a big driver in today’s retail industry, especially at Walmart, the big box chain that has made several robot-related announcements in the past year, reports Forbes.  

Early this year, Walmart announced that it was implementing Bossa Nova’s shelf-scanning robots in 50 stores. The plan called for robots roaming store aisles throughout the day and assessing each location’s inventory position. In theory, the robots audit stock levels and the accuracy of product placement against the information recorded within the retailers' planogram systems.

Shelf audits done by humans are prone to error, putting inventory accuracy within physical stores at an estimated 65%. Concepts such as Bossa Nova, in contrast, scan shelves the same way without fail and the process is 100% objective.

In August, Walmart publicly reported on Alphabot, a robot that picks grocery orders for Walmart's online order pickup customers. Walmart plans to test this robot within a 20,000-square-foot micro-warehouse in hopes it will automate and speed up the mundane task of handling store grocery orders.

In more robot news, Walmart has announced plans to build what it calls the “first high-tech distribution center for fresh and frozen groceries” in Shafter, Calif., according to Supermarket News.

The facility will process 40% more products than a traditional distribution center, according to Walmart, which expects to break ground “in the coming weeks” and open the facility in the fall of 2020.

Instead of manually stacking boxes and assembling pallets at the new distribution center, robots will build a more flexible and dense pallet that that allows extra products to fit into a truck, reducing transportation costs, according to Walmart.

The technology also is expected to cut down on damage, resulting from instances when a heavy item like a watermelon is placed atop a case of strawberries, officials said.

“Every product is measured and documented so that we know how to handle it,” Shayne Wahlmeier, project engineer, said. “A computer algorithm shows all the cases ordered for a given store and determines how to palletize them to maximize the space on a pallet or trailer. It also takes into account density—what’s crushable, what’s not.”

Look for even more opportunities for robot helpers. Supply chain and technology are two key areas of Walmart’s planned $11 billion in capital expenditures for fiscal 2020, and several technology-focused pilots are under way.