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Supply Chain News: Upon Apparent Success, Walmart Commits to Rolling Out the Symbotic Robot System in All 42 US Regional DCs


System will Optimize and Speed the flow of goods in Distribution Centers

May 24, 2022


SCDigest Editorial Staff

In 2016, Walmart announced it was planning to pilot a robotic picking system from a company called Symbotic for use in up to two of its large distribution centers, with a special interesting in how the robots allow it to store more products in its warehouses.

Supply Chain Digest Says...

The Symbotic system also uses proprietary end-of-arm tools and vision systems to swiftly output cases, totes, and packages.

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That after archrival Target had already tried out the Symbiotic system at a California DC.

Then in 2021, in a blog post titled “We’re Partnering with Symbotic to Bring High-Tech Automation to Our Supply Chain,” Joe Metzger, Executive Vice President of Supply Chain Operations at Walmart US said that “since 2017, we’ve worked closely with Symbotic to optimize the system by testing it in our Brooksville, Florida, distribution center."

Metzger added that the technology system optimally sorted, stored, retrieved and packed freight onto pallets.

“We’re using automation to revolutionize intake, increase accuracy and change how freight is handled at our regional distribution centers (RDCs),” he also stated.

In the blog, Metzger said Walmart was planning to deploy the Symbotic system in 25 of its 42 RDCs. It was not made clear at the time why the system was not deemed suitable for the other 17 facilities.

But it’s a moot point now, as this week Walmart announced the system would indeed be deployed at all 42 RDCs.

Wilmington, Mass.-based Symbotic was founded by Rick Cohen, then CEO of C&S Wholesale Grocers, who developed the technology to automate the company's own DC operations. Cowen is now chairman, president, and chief product officer of Symbotic


What's , Symbiotic is on track to go public through a merger with special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) SVF Investment Corp. ‘

The exact design of the Symbiotic system of course varies by facility, but in general it features:

• Automatic depalletization of incoming pallets into the facility
• High density, automated storage in what Symbotic calls "The Box"
• Shuttle-like robots that can traverse the entire storage area, on to which individual cartons are pushed or pulled for storage and picking
• Robotic palletization of the cartons after picking, said to build "perfect pallets"
• Sophisticated software to control all this, leveraging AI/machine learning.

(See More Below)





This is represented in the graphic below (from the Wall Street Journal in 2016):




Source: Wall Street Journal, 2016


Each of Symbotic's autonomous robots working in The Box can drop off and retrieve about one case of product per minute, about five times as fast as a human can on foot in pick aisles. The robots are 28 inches wide and the aisles they travel only slightly wider, compared with the 10-to-12-foot aisles of a conventional warehouse."

The Symbotic system also uses proprietary end-of-arm tools and vision systems to swiftly output cases, totes, and packages.

The technology’s ability to build palletized loads of department-sorted inventory will enable Walmart to get products onto shelves at its more than 4,700 US stores more quickly, Sybiotic says.

“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,” said David Guggina, senior vice president of innovation and automation at Walmart US.

What are your thoughts on the Symbiotic technology? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below (email) or in the Feedback section.




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