U.S. Manufacturing

The Science of Making Old Clothes New Again

Typically, people associate recycling with materials like paper, plastic, glass and aluminum.

 But did you know the average person discards 80 pounds of clothes and textile accessories per year? Even more eye opening to us at the Fiber Science & Apparel Design department at Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology was the stat that only 15% of those discarded textiles are being recycled.

We saw a huge opportunity and, backed by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2014, set out to develop an effective production process for utilizing post-consumer textile waste. We conducted considerable research, working side by side with a factory in Haiti that deconstructs used textiles in order to create new garments. We began refining their processes and finding ways to recycle a higher percentage of the textiles they received. But, as promising as our progress in this area was, we hit a snag. Our funding ran out – until now.

Last week, our work was jump-started when we were among five leading research and academic institutions awarded a combined $2.84 million in grants to create new processes, ideas and jobs to further America’s growing U.S. manufacturing footprint. The grant is part of Walmart’s U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund and represents the latest milestone in the retailer’s $250 billion commitment to domestic manufacturing.

So the push to not only begin to close the loop in the textile supply chain, but to find ways to significantly reduce energy and water consumption in the process, is again under way. We’ve already helped develop ways for post-consumer textiles to be turned into such items as bow ties, purses and even polyester hang tags. But we see opportunities to utilize more material in the production of pillows, various stuffings and more.

One of the biggest hurdles to closing the loop is lack of process for separating blended fabrics. Cotton-polyester blends, for example, are great for creating wrinkle-free shirts but, in order to recycle the material, the fibers need to be separated back out. Our designers and fiber scientists are committed to developing a process that can accommodate these blended fabrics, along with ways to turn materials into such items as decorative vases and bowls, particle board and other sustainable composites.

Due, in part, to this grant, we’re able to focus our attention on developing the equipment and the processes to make these kinds of things happen. There’s huge opportunity out there. The real game changer will be figuring out how to bring something like this to scale. And we’re getting there, one step at a time.

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Business

Why Smarter Inventory Means Better Customer Service

When you’re getting ready to head to Walmart, you expect everything on your list will be ready and waiting on our shelves.

With millions of items for sale, ensuring that happens – for everything, every time – is quite a complex process behind the scenes.

Managing back room inventory – products that are stored in back rooms for days, sometimes weeks, before they reach shelves – can be a challenge. It requires constant monitoring, and can sometimes take associates away from the sales floor where they would otherwise be helping customers. So recently we’ve been experimenting with new and better ways to improve the process for everyone.

Top Stock is one of these new systems that we’re testing in stores. With it, we’ve moved a great deal of our back stock inventory to somewhere else very simple: the top shelves on our sales floor. By keeping additional merchandise closer to where it’s sold, we can maintain fuller shelves while keeping a better in-the-moment read on inventory.

I spent the first 12 years of my three decades with Walmart in replenishment and supply chain roles, so I understand the significance firsthand of how this makes storage and stocking so much easier. But there’s also quite a bit more that directly benefits customers:

  • All the extra space we’re opening up in our back rooms is making it easier for us to integrate services like online grocery pickup. While the demand for grocery pickup is obvious, finding adequate space within our existing stores had sometimes been a challenge.
  • Need something you don’t immediately see on the shelf? Waiting for an associate to check our back room during peak holiday shopping periods could soon be a thing of the past. By improving our inventory management processes, we’re bringing the products and services that customers need one step closer. In fact, the implementation of Top Stock has helped reduce our rental of temporary inventory trailers to a small fraction of what it was just a few years ago.
  • Our improvements in inventory management are getting more associates out of the back room and onto the sales floor, where they can help and interact with customers.
  • Perhaps best of all, our associates can use open back room space for career-building education. When one store in Morrisville, North Carolina, implemented Top Stock inventory management, they reduced back room inventory by 75% in two months, allowing enough new space to open an Academy for associate training.

What’s worked for our business in the past isn’t always what’s best for today’s shopper. When we commit to coming up with unexpected ways to do the small things better, we not only become smarter and more efficient, but create a big win for our customers at the same time.

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U.S. Manufacturing

In the News: Inside Our Open Call for American Manufacturing

Shrimp, hair gel, sweet potato cake.

Forbes sent a film crew to Walmart’s corporate office in Bentonville, Arkansas, to capture the excitement as suppliers pitched these and hundreds of other products at our annual U.S. Manufacturing Open Call event.

Forbes shared its inside look today. Take a look at what the big day is like for the people behind the products.

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Innovation

Uncovering How We’ll Shop in the Future

As new technology brings new possibilities, there’s been an explosion of ways to shop – smartphone apps, online grocery shopping and Scan & Go for easier checkout, to name just a few. To serve customers better, we need to stay ahead of the research that helps form the ideas that will continue to revolutionize how we shop.

I’m part of a small team that’s delving deep into research to improve the shopping experience for everyone. I’m a data scientist for Sam’s Club Technology, and I like to compare what we do to building a car: You have to start with the engine.

My day-to-day work is all about staying on top of new methods to build that engine. I look at ways we can incorporate emerging research in object recognition, detection and segmentation – technology that can make things like our Scan & Go app even smarter. For instance, instead of scanning a bar code, the app will be able to recognize products using photos taken by your phone’s camera.

Because this is such a fast-moving field, the research I work with is in its earliest stages. I might work with one algorithm today, and a couple months from now use a completely new model that’s even better than what we had before.

Tech is constantly evolving, which makes innovation essential for retailers. We have to continually adapt our business to our shoppers’ lifestyles. There’s a lot of coding, engineering and algorithm testing that goes into building something that works better than what people are used to. It’s challenging, but that’s why I’m lucky to work with such talented people.

Until I joined the team last year, I never realized the strong sense of pride that associates in the Walmart and Sam’s Club family have in what our business does. After studying at Yale, I worked in financial engineering in New York – I didn’t expect to find an opportunity to do such innovative work in Bentonville, Arkansas.

I’ve found that in the corporate world, it’s rare for a business to invest in cutting-edge research. But, from the start, Walmart has chosen to invent some of our own solutions instead of waiting for someone else to come up with them. In this new age of tech, we’re still evolving and inventing better ways to get from Point A to Point C.

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Innovation

5 Ways Walmart Uses Big Data to Help Customers

In many industries, big data provides a way for companies to gain a better understanding of their customers and make better business decisions.

Walmart relies on big data to get a real-time view of the workflow in the pharmacy, distribution centers and throughout our stores and e-commerce.

Check out the infographic below to see how Walmart uses big data to make the company’s operations more efficient and improve the lives of customers.

Whether it’s analyzing the transportation route for a supply chain or using data to optimize pricing, big data analytics will continue to be a key way for Walmart to enhance the customer experience.

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