The Boston Globe this morning reports that Walmart "has struck a deal with warehouse automation company Symbotic that will put the … company’s robots and software inside 25 of Walmart’s regional distribution centers."
According to the story, "Symbotic chief executive Rick Cohen declined to reveal the dollar value of the deal. But he said the Walmart warehouses are massive, with 1.5 million square feet of storage space each, and up to 300,000 unique merchandise items.
"Cohen is also owner of New Hampshire’s C&S Wholesale Grocers, one of the nation’s largest privately held businesses. He founded Symbotic in 2005 to develop better ways to pack and ship merchandise to retail stores.
"'We’ve been in stealth mode for a long time,' said Cohen, 'trying to get this product to be as good as I wanted it to be.' (Walmart has been testing a Symbotic system at one of its Florida warehouses since 2017.)"
- KC's View:
The Globe story notes that this is not Walmart's only effort at reducing human labor and improving efficiency via technology at various points in its distribution system, reporting that "John Lert, who co-founded Symbotic and left the company in 2011, is also putting robots to work for Walmart.
"Lert’s current company, Alert Innovation of North Billerica, makes robotic mini-warehouses that are connected on-site to Walmart stores. The facilities use robots to assemble individual customer orders for pickup and delivery. The first of these automated systems was launched in Salem, New Hampshire, in 2019, and in January, Walmart announced plans to add them to dozens more of its stores."
This is all reflective of how big companies with big money are revolutionizing logistics, creating systems that, if they work, potentially will be much better at serving customers at retail. It is all fascinating, but also, I think, a kind of major challenge to companies with fewer resources that may eventually find themselves at a severe disadvantage unless they find ways to define and expand on their own unique advantages.