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Walmart turns Texas DC into high-tech facility

Addition of automation, robotics among changes to Palestine center

The transformation of Walmart’s distribution network continues with the unveiling of a revamped facility in Texas that includes automation from Symbotic. (Photo: Walmart)

The modernization of Walmart’s distribution centers continues with completion of a major retrofit of the retailer’s regional distribution center (RDC) in Palestine, Texas.

On Wednesday, Walmart (NYSE: WMT) executives and local officials gathered for an official unveiling of the 1.2 million-square-foot facility’s makeover.

“Walmart’s Palestine distribution center has been a pillar in the community for the last 42 years, and we’re excited to transform our building into an industry-leading, high-tech distribution center. This isn’t just an investment in our facility, but also our associates, our community and our future. I couldn’t be more proud to be at the forefront of Walmart’s supply chain transformation,” said Marty Denney, general manager of Regional Distribution Center No. 6036 for Walmart U.S., during the ceremony.

The changes are part of Walmart’s previously announced initiative to update its 42 RDCs to improve throughput through the introduction of automated technology. Investments in Palestine include artificial intelligence software systems, robotics and automation to sort, store, retrieve and pack merchandise onto pallets for shipping to stores.

“Adding game-changing automation and AI-powered software systems to this facility will revolutionize an already impressive operation, changing the way we distribute products to stores, and we’re just getting started,” said Mike Gray, senior vice president of supply chain operations at Walmart.   

In May, Walmart announced that it had expanded its partnership with supply chain automation company Symbotic to deploy robots in all 42 of its regional distribution centers. The two companies will retrofit the facilities over the next eight-plus years. That represented an expansion of a previous agreement to install Symbotic robots in 25 facilities.

Symbotic is the brainchild of billionaire CEO Rick Cohen, who also owns grocery supply company C&S Wholesale Grocers. The Wilmington, Massachusetts-based company’s Symbotic Systems platform uses a proprietary AI-driven software that powers a fleet of fully autonomous robots to receive, retrieve and store items. 

Walmart revamping distribution

The updates in Palestine and the other 41 RDCs in Walmart’s network are part of a large rethinking of its distribution network as it seeks to balance store replenishment with e-commerce fulfillment, prioritizing speed and efficiency.

In August, the company announced it was opening a 400,000-square-foot automated consolidation center in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, aimed at speeding up supply chains across the company’s 42 regional distribution centers in the U.S.

Over the summer, Walmart detailed plans to build four next-generation fulfillment centers (FCs) that feature a mix of humans, robotics and machine learning. Once opened, the centers, the first of which opened over the summer in Joliet, Illinois, along with the company’s existing regional distribution centers and over 4,700 stores, will enable same-day shipping of millions of items to 80% of the U.S. population.

Walmart acquired grocery automation firm Alert Innovation for an undisclosed price earlier this month. The two companies have worked together since 2016, when Alert began building custom fulfillment solutions for Walmart’s grocery fulfillment operation.

However, Walmart has also been readjusting its workforce, most recently laying off about 1,500 workers at an Atlanta facility as it looks to convert the center to a Walmart Fulfillment Services hub.

Click for more articles by Brian Straight.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected].