Walmart plots 4 new ‘next generation’ fulfillment centers

Walmart plans to build four new high-tech fulfillment centers over the next three years that would include automation, machine learning and robotics while also collectively employing more than 4,000 new workers. 

The first “next-generation” facility is scheduled to open this summer in Joliet, Illinois, according to a company post from David Guggina, senior vice president of innovation and automation at Walmart U.S.

The retail giant partnered with fulfillment tech company Knapp to develop what Guggina described as “an automated, high-density storage system that streamlines a manual, twelve-step process into just five steps.”

Through the four new fulfillment centers alone, Walmart could offer next-day or two-day shipping to 75% of the U.S. population, according to Guggina. 

The centers use an automated storage system to house products — once they are received, unpacked and placed in specialized “totes” — in millions of designated locations. When a customer purchases an item, the system retrieves it automatically and creates a custom-fitting box.  

“This is a huge win for our associates, who traditionally would have walked up to nine miles per day, picking items from multiple floors of shelving spread out over hundreds of thousands of square feet of space,” Guggina said of the automated retrieval system. 

Walmart previously announced another high-tech fulfillment center set for Lebanon, Tennessee, that also makes use of a robotic retrieval system to locate items for employees.  

“Our automation plan is now ready to scale,” CEO Doug McMillon said then. “We’ll be investing in our distribution centers, our e-commerce fulfillment centers and in market fulfillment centers, which will, in many cases, be inside of or built beside our stores.”

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