Following successful pilots, Walmart plans to roll out a new range of robots into its stores, which aim to perform duties such as checking inventory, store maintenance, unloading lorries, sorting products and fulfilling online orders, allowing store associates to focus on serving customers on the shop floor.
Walmart said it has been trialling the technology for months and seen a very positive response from store staff. Among the technology that has been rolled out, FAST unloaders are perhaps the most interesting piece of tech. Essentially, they’re capable of unloading a lorry of merchandise along a conveyor belt in a much shorter time than what could be done by a human operator.
Working in tandem with shelf-scanner robots
The machines automatically scan and sort items that have been unloaded based on their priority and department. It is important to note that the unloaders work in tandem with the Auto-S shelf scanning robots which are able to update product availability, flag out-of-stocks and ensure proper shelf location amongst other tasks. Thanks to the data shared by the self-scanner robot, the relevant inventory can be moved from the back room into the corresponding shelves much quicker, with out-of-stocks being prioritised.
“What’s especially cool is that two pieces of tech, the shelf scanners and the FAST Unloaders, share data back and forth to improve the whole process of getting products on the shelves,” said Elizabeth Walker, manager of brand content at Walmart.
Scaling up the roll out
The retailer noted earlier in the testing stage that unloading was a heavily disliked occupation, and one it had trouble hiring or retaining staff. Last summer, 30 unloaders were rolled out in the US with more added on a weekly basis. 1,200 FAST unloaders are being added to the existing 500 machines, bringing the total to 1,700.
A Walmart spokesperson said: “What we’re seeing so far suggests investments in store technology are shaping how we think about turnover and hours. The technology is automating pieces of work or tasks, rather than entire jobs. As that’s happening, we have been able to use many of the hours being saved in other areas of the store — focused more on service and selling for customers.”
Walmart has made signficant investment in technology to improve its store operations recently. Check out the Walmart supply chain snapshot.