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Designing a Controls Engineer

Wayne Curry, Senior Development & Project Manager at Ocado Technology, defines a special Controls Engineer; custom made for Ocado Technology operations.

Ocado Technology operates in an environment where we are constantly evolving, developing, and innovating. We offer rewarding careers with exceptional training and benefits, and a warm welcome to our worldwide engineering family. But we're not traditional, and we're not ordinary, so our Controls Engineers cannot be ordinary either. We need them designed especially for us…

The Ocado Technology operations teams maintain and support the Ocado Smart Platform (OSP) built inside Customer Fulfilment Centres (CFCs) all over the world. Our reach ranges from our UK retail brand, Ocado Retail Limited, to partnerships in the UK with Marks & Spencers and Morrisons, to our partnerships with major grocery retail brands across Europe and further afield, such as Kroger in the US, Sobeys in Canada, and Aeon in Japan. 

“…we're not traditional, and we're not ordinary… our Controls Engineers cannot be ordinary either. We need them designed especially for us…”

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Every one of those CFCs is a highly-automated smart warehouse, hosting a connected set of OSP technologies that store, pick, and pack thousands of customer orders, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our iconic bots store and retrieve goods in the hive - a dense, three dimensional storage structure, serviced by mechanical handling peripherals and conveyor networks. These bring bespoke products and industry-standard solutions together into a cutting-edge, high-tech ecosystem that needs expert care.

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The starting point for Controls Engineers in our operations teams has to be that they are not PLC systems designers, or developers. In fact, they are versatile, frontline engineers with a range of experience on both electrical and mechanical systems. As a foundation, they might have been something like multiskilled maintenance engineers, though probably with electrical bias and qualifications in electronic or electrical engineering. They need to have earned their stripes in a high-cadence, live site situation where customers are directly affected by their actions.

Of course, they do also need the controls experience and expertise: They need to understand code, logs, ladder logic, and so on; they need to know their way around field control devices and DC motor controls; and they need to know where to look for a solution when the pressure is on to keep things running.

Our PLC implementation is based around Siemens solutions, including the latest SIMATIC S7 1200 and 1500 controllers, and SIMATIC WinCC SCADA and HMI systems and screens. Experience on this platform specifically is a big advantage, but it's not the whole story. OSP is a multifaceted solution, so an Ocado Technology Controls Engineer has to engage with the entire picture and would be expected, for example, to read Linux and Javascript, diagnose bot errors, and become fluent with our warehouse automation solutions.

Another vital ingredient in our Engineering Operations is safety. We value our inclusive, engaged safety culture, and we expect our engineers to value it too. In fact, safety is always an important part of the interview or assessment process. We need to know that our Engineers understand safety in an operations environment. They should be able to do risk assessments, and understand change and version control, and continuous improvement methodology. Changing a single step in a ladder logic rung can have significant consequences, so our Controls Engineers need to take safety extremely seriously.

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“When an engineer on shift is stuck , they typically ask the Controls Engineer to come and help; so they need to be a willing teacher and mentor.”

Our Controls Engineers have to be able to take the lead, too - supporting our Grid Operators and Technicians. When an engineer on shift is stuck , they typically ask the Controls Engineer to come and help; so they need to be a willing teacher and mentor.

In Summary? Our Controls Engineer needs to be practical and resourceful, with in-the field experience, enviable problem solving skills, and the controls knowhow to match. They need to take their safety responsibilities seriously, and be ready to help out and make their experience count when called upon.

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The Other Way Around

You should also know that we've designed Ocado Technology to suit the ideal candidate. We value diversity of all kinds - in people, skills, and viewpoints. Each talented individual makes our team and our engineering stronger. We have a ready-made community of innovative people who drive change and challenge themselves to think beyond the norm. Every engineer has a variety of development and advancement opportunities and we offer a range of training platforms and courses to help people excel in their roles and move in the direction they want to take their career in.

Change your world with us

We have opportunities worldwide for amazing engineers to help keep outsmart warehouses running. If you have experience in controls, mechanical handling, and electro-mechanical systems, find your next job here.

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