UK Online Grocer Ocado Learns Lessons About Robotic Warehouses After Massive Fire


The andover fireplace brigade became alerted at 2.34 a.M. Approximately 2 miles throughout metropolis, a fireplace had damaged out within the early hours of feb. 5 at a ultra-modern ocado group p.C warehouse. Inside minutes, firefighters had been tackling a blaze that ultimately decreased the five-floor facility in southern england to a tangle of smoking metal.

Later that day, ocado executives provided quarterly earnings in a conference room in london. Leader govt officer tim steiner touted the virtues of the business enterprise’s robot warehouses, laying out plans for andover. He didn’t point out the hearth, which raged on for 3 greater days.
For ocado, the blaze was a reminder that the march of automation has a sting within the tail. Machines may be green and safe workers, however their surroundings isn’t designed for human intervention when disaster moves. The monetary repercussions also can be worse if a store’s chance is concentrated in some high priced warehouses as opposed to loads of shops.

“there is a bodily, configurational project approximately a number of those locations if something is going incorrect,” stated jonathan reynolds, academic director of the oxford institute of retail management. “there’s a gradual increase in understanding the results of automation.”

Ocado isn’t always the handiest e-commerce issuer to be afflicted by such incidents. Style brand asos % has had three warehouse fires on account that 2005.

Ambient grid
The online grocer said on feb. 5 that the fireplace started out in what’s called the ambient grid, in which food is saved at room temperature. A spokeswoman declined to remark further on the reason.

The blaze started excessive inside the warehouse and changed into so difficult to attain that firefighters had to reduce holes in the roof, according to neil odin, leader officer at hampshire hearth and rescue service. A sprinkler machine simplest contained the hearth in its early degrees. It took more than 200 humans to quell the flames.

The 240,000 square-foot andover facility became the primary of its type while it turned into constructed in 2016 and was designed to encourage different outlets to associate with ocado to improve their on-line deliveries. The website stuffed approximately 10 percentage of ocado’s orders and sales growth is expected to suffer till capability may be accelerated somewhere else.

Ocado has secured moneymaking licensing offers with kroger co. Inside the u.S., casino guichard-perrachon sa in france and different grocers way to the technology. Kroger is urgent on with its tie-up, naming locations for brand new facilities with the u.Okay. Corporation’s software. Closing week ocado added a 750 million-pound (approximately $1 billion) funding from marks & spencer institution % to shape a grocery-transport joint project.

Ocado has shared information approximately the reason of the fireplace with partners like kroger and m&s, and the corporations aren’t deterred, steiner informed newshounds at a london briefing closing week.

Six hundred robots
“we are not worried that there’s a essential difficulty with the design,” the ceo stated. “can we research classes from it? Of route we are able to. We usually examine lessons from our errors. Can we improve matters and ensure things are safer within the future? Yes. However there’s no issue there.”

The blistered warehouse featured 17 stacks of crates and a grid at the top wherein more than 600 robots fill orders in seconds. That’s approximately the equal size as the unit’s staff of humans, a number of whom function under the community, bagging orders.

Automated warehouses are usually taller and narrower than extra conventional facilities due to the fact there’s no want for humans to move among flooring and it saves on lease, according to george lawrie, an analyst at forrester research inc. Who advises retailers on era to make their corporations extra aggressive.

The 45 million-pound andover facility became on the outskirts of town, however in the destiny warehouses can be closer to city centers for quicker distribution, he stated. Ocado is already testing a carrier to handle one-hour deliveries from smaller urban sites.

“the hearth service desires to suppose ahead approximately alternate and how risk develops,” said matt wrack, general secretary of the u.Okay. Fire brigades union. “there’s a big debate about automation which suggests these varieties of premises are going to grow in number.”

Tech focus
Computerized warehouses aren’t new. Amazon.Com inc. Uses more than one hundred,000 robots in its distribution centers global. However ocado has advanced the concept, and it sees itself as greater of a tech employer than a grocer. It has created its very own infrastructure, generation and software, together with robotic palms which could pick delicate gadgets which includes fruit and veggies. The tie-up with m&s will allow it to focus even extra on era.

Hearth damage at on-line outlets’ web sites can be highly-priced. Asos halted distribution for more than a month in 2005 after an oil depot explosion set one of its facilities alight in southern england. Every other blaze in 2014 stopped orders from a different u.Ok. Site, costing it as an awful lot as 30 million kilos in misplaced sales. Police taken into consideration the cause of the second fire to be arson.

A fireplace at an asos facility near berlin in 2017 ruined stock worth about 6 million kilos, although not one of the era or shape was affected. A spokesman declined to touch upon those fires.

H&m, zara
Machines are more and more creeping into retail as consumers call for convenience, reasonably-priced fees and short shipping. Swedish clothing chain hennes & mauritz ab computerized a logistics middle in poland ultimate 12 months to boom capability and accelerate deliveries throughout europe. Inditex sa’s zara has even used robotics to location clothes directly into customers’ arms in its flagship london store.

Robots may additionally subsequently end up so advanced that they are able to douse flames themselves, in line with lawrie at forrester.

“if they’re sufficiently smart with a view to choose the produce, i’m sure they may be quite smart sufficient to fight a fire,” he stated.

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