Walmart Parterns with Robotic Startups to Scale Local Fulfillment CentersJanuary 30, 2021 by Alessandro Mascellino
Walmart works with three robotics-focused startups on intelligent robot technology to scale its local fulfillment center (LFC) operations.
Driving Innovation in Robotics
The companies selected by Walmart for this partnership specialize in different fields of automation but are complementary to scale up LFCs’ capabilities via micro-fulfillment strategies.
For context, micro-fulfillment works by placing small-scale warehouse facilities in densely populated urban areas (that are closer to the consumer) to improve delivery times.
Several startups are partnering with Walmart, including Alert Innovations, a Massachusetts-based e-Grocery company with 35 issued or pending patents on its goods-to-person Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS).
The company’s Alphabot system offers several advanced features and powering options from store-level micro-fulfillment centers to dark stores.
The Alphabot system. Image courtesy of Alert Innovations.
Dematic focuses on the development of intelligent, automated solutions for manufacturing, warehouse, and distribution environments.
Dematic offers several solutions to improve efficiency in industrial automation scenarios, from micro-fulfillment to robotics picking systems and performance-optimizing software.
Fabric is a startup offering software and robotics solutions for micro-fulfillment centers, from same-day online grocery to e-commerce services. The company has raised an overall $138 million to date.
Streamlining Logistics Processes
Walmart is now partnering with these startups to improve the efficiency of its local fulfillment centers.
A Walmart associate working in a local fulfillment center. Image courtesy of Walmart.
The company’s LFCs can store thousands of items, from fresh and frozen items to consumables and electronics.
Leveraging technologies from the three startups, Walmart is automating activities in its LFCs to have bots retrieving items from within the center and bringing them to a picking workstation, where the order can be rapidly assembled.
Walmart clarified that orders including produce, meat, and seafood will still be handpicked by a human to deliver the best products. The supermarket giant has started a pilot of its first local fulfillment center in Salem, New Hampshire, in late 2019.
Driving Innovation in LFC Applications
Moving forward and building on the experience of its pilot project, Walmart said it will now “test different orientations and add-on innovations to understand what works best in different environments.”
This will translate into several different approaches, such as expanding a store plant to add an external LFC.
A Walmart associate interacting with a screen in a local fulfillment center. Image courtesy of Walmart.
Walmart said it may build the fulfillment centers directly inside the existing store footprint. An additional option would be installing automated pickup points, allowing customers to drive through, scan a code, then pick up their order on the go.
The news of the company’s partnership is the latest step in Walmart’s efforts in automating warehouse activity, with the company's now-former Senior Vice President Cameron Geiger serving as company advisor at SVT Robotics since last year.
What do you think about the food and beverage industry working with robotic companies to streamline fulfillment centers?