Retail giant Walmart has integrated a warehouse automation system, Alphabot, into its operations after undertaking tests for almost a year. (See video below.)
Alphabot, technically an automated storage and retrieval system, was especially developed for Walmart by startup company Alert Innovation.
Walmart says the Alphabot system will “revolutionize the online grocery pickup and delivery process”.
The system is currently operating inside a 20,000 sq ft warehouse-style space, using autonomous carts to retrieve ambient, refrigerated and frozen items ordered online.
After it retrieves them, Alphabot delivers the products to a workstation, where a Walmart employee checks, bags and delivers the final order.
Walmart says that while human employees will continue to pick produce and other fresh items by hand, Alphabot will “help make the retrieval process for all other items easier and faster”.
Brian Roth is a senior manager of pickup automation and digital operations for Walmart US. He believes Alphabot could fundamentally change Walmart’s online grocery operations.
Roth says: “By assembling and delivering orders to associates, Alphabot is streamlining the order process, allowing associates to do their jobs with greater speed and efficiency.
“Ultimately, this will lower dispense times, increase accuracy and improve the entirety of online grocery. And it will help free associates to focus on service and selling, while the technology handles the more mundane, repeatable tasks.”
“This is going to be a transformative impact to Walmart’s supply chain. Alphabot is what we think of as micro-fulfillment – an inventive merger of e-commerce and brick and mortar methods.”
Alert Innovation says Alphabot is also part of an automated each-picking system, and is “the most capital-efficient and broadly scalable design of each of these solutions ever developed”.
At the heart of Alphabot technology is a mobile robot that can operate within a multilevel storage structure. A fleet of these robots operates within a given system under control of a single master control system.
In an Alphabot ASRS, the bots are the only moving part—there are no lifts, conveyors, or any other material-handling mechanism—hence the capital-efficiency.
The addition of a picking workstation creates a “goods-to-picker” each-picking technology in which the bots themselves flow product and order containers through these workstations, where pickers transfer eaches from product containers to order containers.
Since the robots move vertically, workstations can be arrayed at multiple vertical elevations, enabling unprecedented space efficiency in high-throughput systems.
Alphabot technology makes possible a new-type of supermarket featuring automated-service rather than self-service, which Alert says will become “the next paradigm in food retailing”.