Walmart details plans for its high-tech facility in Antrim Township
When it opens in about two years, people working at the massive Walmart fulfillment center in Antrim Township won’t have to walk up to 9 miles a day filling orders.
That’s one of the advantages of the highly automated system being rolled out at four next-generation fulfillment centers detailed in a news release the company issued Friday, June 3.
This is the first time the retailer has publicly acknowledged that the more than 1.5-million-square-foot building going up near Exit 3 off Interstate 81 is a Walmart facility.
However, it’s been an open secret locally since before earth-moving began in early 2021 on Ebberts Spring Court. The property is south of the WellSpan Greencastle Health Center and Blaise Alexander Chevrolet and north of Milnor Road. Mike Ross, president of Franklin County Area Development Corp., publicly identified it as a Walmart e-fulfillment center at a Greencastle-Antrim Chamber of Commerce meeting in August.
For growth and development, Ross has often said, “There’s no better place to be than Exit 3.” Its proximity to metro areas including Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia is one reason the local site was selected.
FCADC President Mike Ross:Antrim Township development 'makes your head spin'
“Walmart’s decision to construct what will be one of the most technologically advanced logistics centers in the world in Greencastle, specifically Antrim Township, is further affirmation of Franklin County’s strategic location,” Ross said. “More than 100 million people live within a 12-hour drive of Franklin County, which represents nearly unprecedented consumer purchasing power, consequently it is not difficult to understand Walmart’s site location decision.”
The three other next generation fulfillment centers also are strategically located, with openings planned in Joliet, Ill., this summer; McCordsville, Ind., in spring 2023; and Lancaster, Texas, in fall 2023.
“These (fulfillment centers) will be the first of their kind for Walmart, using the powerful combination of people, robotics, and machine learning to set an entirely new precedent for us on the speed of fulfillment while continuing to create a positive work environment for our associates,” David Guggina, senior vice president, automation, and innovation at Walmart, said in a blog post titled “A New Era of Fulfillment: Introducing Walmart’s Next Generation Fulfillment Centers.”
The four centers alone can provide 75% of the people in the U.S. with next- or two-day shipping on millions of items.
“Combined with our traditional FCs, we can reach 95% of the U.S. population with next- or two-day shipping, and by making use of the expansive reach of our stores, we can offer same-day delivery to 80% of the U.S. population,” Guggina said.
How the process works
“Our new next generation fulfillment center is a first-of-its-kind for Walmart that will transform the way we ship online orders to customers,” Guggina said. “Through our automated storage system and patent-pending five-step process, we’ll not only provide increased comfort for associates but also double the storage capacity and double the number of customer orders we’re able to fulfill in a day.”
Walmart partnered with Knapp, a tech company for intelligent fulfillment solutions, to develop an automated, high-density storage system that streamlines a manual, 12-step process into five steps. It’s been honed at the Walmart fulfillment center in Pendricktown, N.J.
Here’s how it works:
- Unload: Sellers and suppliers send merchandise in cases to a fulfillment center. As the cases arrive, workers unload the trailers and place cases onto a conveyor belt where they’re routed to receiving.
- Receive: At receiving, a worker breaks the case apart and places the individual items into a tote. The tote is whisked away into a massive, automated storage system where a shuttle transports it to one of millions of designated locations. The storage system is designed to account for every square inch, spanning from floor to ceiling in a custom-built structure designed to hold the inventory.
- Pick: When a customer places an online order, the system goes into action, retrieving their items and shuttling the needed totes to a worker at a picking station. This is a huge win for the workers, who traditionally would have walked up to 9 miles per day, picking items from multiple floors of shelving spread out over hundreds of thousands of square feet of space.
- Pack: Simultaneously, a custom box is created to fit the exact measurements of the order. In the pack area, it is estimated workers can assemble up to four orders at once and send packages to be shipped in less than 30 minutes after the customer clicks to order.
- Ship: The completed order is then automatically taped, labeled and routed to its designated zone where it’s then shipped to its final destination.
The result is:
- Double the storage capacity.
- Double the number of customer orders fulfilled in a day.
- Increased comfort and opportunity for workers — removing the need to walk up to 9 miles per day picking items from multiple floors of shelving spread out over hundreds of thousands of square feet of space.
- Increased access to more products for Walmart+ members and customers.
Big building, big numbers
The footprint of the Antrim Township center coupled with its height will give it around 3 million square feet of operating space, making it one of the largest buildings in Franklin County. That’s on par with the Procter & Gamble building and another Walmart fulfillment center, both in Southampton Township near Shippensburg.
Bookending Franklin County with the site in Antrim Township, the other Walmart fulfillment center is in the process of opening and initial hiring is expected to be 600 people.
“When aggregating the Antrim Township and Southampton Township locations, Walmart will occupy roughly 4 million square feet, which will make them the largest logistics employer in the county,” Ross said. “As you can see, Walmart is establishing a very significant presence in Franklin County as Amazon is doing the same in Washington County (Md.).”
Amazon is one of the top five employers in Washington County, with one warehouse on Crayton Boulevard near Hagerstown Regional Airport and two on Wesel Boulevard near Valley Mall, as well as a delivery station on Industrial Lane in Williamsport, where fleets of vans are loaded for trips to homes and businesses.
In Franklin County, the transportation and logistics industry accounts for approximately 11% of the employment base. The top five facilities — Target Distribution Center 589, Procter & Gamble, ADUSA (Food Lion), ULTA Beauty and Staples Direct — employ about 4,000 people.
The Antrim Township fulfillment center will be one of the largest, if not the largest, taxpayer in Franklin County within 10 years, Ross said. Initially, it is eligible for LERTA —Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance — which provides gradually declining tax incentives over a 10-year period.
More than 1,000 jobs
The fulfillment center is expected to employ more than 1,000 people — including new tech-focused jobs such as control technicians, quality audit analysts and flow managers — when it opens in 2024. Hiring will take place closer to that time.
“The Greencastle facility will utilize state-of-the-art technologies that will make it one of the most advanced facilities in the world,” Ross said. “Consequently, the employment skill sets will require a greater need for technological backgrounds.”
FCADC is partnering with Triangle Tech on Opportunity Avenue in Chambersburg to expand its curriculum to include maintenance electric, which is essentially an associate degree for industrial electricians, Ross said. He noted this skill set is needed by not just by Walmart, but all of the logistics centers in the region. The new curriculum will be available in 2023.
Walmart offers college tuition payment through its Live Better U program and Walmart Supply Chain Academies, which pay workers to learn through immersive teaching that combines technology, classroom training and ongoing coaching.
Full-time positions qualify for Walmart’s total rewards and benefits plans, including medical, vision and dental insurance, 401(k) matching, paid time off and stock purchase plan. More information is available at careers.walmart.com.
Shawn Hardy is a reporter with Gannett's Franklin County newspapers in south-central Pennsylvania — the Echo Pilot in Greencastle, The Record Herald in Waynesboro and the Public Opinion in Chambersburg. She has more than 35 years of journalism experience. Reach her at email@example.com.