We recently announced a whole suite of innovations for our Ocado Smart Platform (OSP), known collectively as ‘Ocado Re:Imagined’. These innovations are a leap forward in efficiency and performance, making big changes in everything from warehouse construction to delivery and logistics operations. It will transform the operational economics of Ocado Smart Platform (OSP) for our partners' online grocery businesses and create new opportunities for our engineers and our tech ops teams.
The Re:Imagined innovations include the world's lightest and most efficient grocery fulfilment bot; dramatically lighter structural elements for optimised site design; robotic arms that pick groceries directly from our three-dimensional storage ‘hive’; and Automated Frameload - a mechanical handling solution that automates the most physically demanding job in our CFCs. On the logistics side, Re:Imagined introduces the world's first virtual distribution centre, a capability for short lead time deliveries from a large stock range, without high costs, along with a capability for powering retailers' own storefronts with the intelligence behind OSP.
The operations angle
At Ocado Technology operations, we will be challenged with implementing the Re:Imagined technologies in CFCs around the world. We operate the supply chain that manufactures, specifies, and supplies the new technologies. We design CFCs from concept to plan and fit OSP into every new warehouse design. We integrate every component, control, and conveyor, making sure they work seamlessly together for peak performance and optimal throughput. We builders and install these technologies, from slab to sign-off. And we are the on-site operations teams who manage and maintain our technologies throughout their operational lives.
Mark Bentley is the Managing Director of Client Services, which includes all engineering teams that operate and maintain our CFCs. They work directly with our global retail partners day-to-day, ensuring live warehouse operations run 24/7 without a hitch: "Re:Imagined is both exciting and potentially hugely rewarding," he says. "It's exciting because this is new, cutting edge kit. There will be new processes, new tooling, new systems, new software; there will be new skills to be acquired and developed... Engineers by their nature, love 'new'... They love developing their skills, they love learning, they love getting the latest tech; so all of this is music to our ears."
Our supply chain teams have a wide range of functions from design, integration, and project management, to manufacturing and producing our technologies and supplying spare parts to all sites. Mark Fryer is our Engineering Supply Chain Director and says that Re:Imagined represents many of the best things about Ocado Engineering: "It's that constant drive to improve,” he explains. “It’s never being satisfied with what we've got, acknowledging it can always be better, and using the technology that's available to really push the envelope... It creates a huge groundswell of excitement within the teams, and it gives us something to focus on - it gives a bit more, you know. It's ambition... And that’s infectious."
Jon Satinet is Central Operations Director at Ocado Technology. In the UK, his teams are responsible for the construction of our warehouses. Globally, they take care of OSP installation and commissioning. The promise of new technology is inspiring: "We're very excited by the engineering advances being made,” he says. “And everyone in the team is champing at the bit to get closer to the new automation and start bringing it to life. We’re currently making sure that we're as prepared as we can be, by developing and documenting new processes and procedures. ”
Engineering that changes the future
Re:Imagined is testament to the brilliant engineering talent at Ocado Technology; proof that we are long term innovators with ambition embedded in our culture. For our partners around the world, including leading grocery retailers like Kroger in the US, Sobeys in Canada, and Aeon in Japan, it has important real world benefits. It means faster build and installation of fulfilment centres in a larger range of facility sizes and types. This leads to lower costs, accelerated growth, and significant change in their own customer propositions.
For example, the new 600 Series Bots use the latest advances in topology optimisation and additive manufacturing so a large proportion of the bot is 3D printed. This means each bot could be around five times lighter than previous iterations, which in turn has important implications for structural elements of our warehouses, power consumption, efficiency, and more.
"The 600 Series Bot is a step-change in technology," comments Mark Bentley. "Working with them will become much easier; I think even I might be able to lift one. It means they will be easier to retrieve, easier to fix, and easier to upgrade - particularly with the possibility of ‘on-demand’ printed spare parts… The new automation is amazing too - the on-grid robotic arms and the Automated Frameload. Again, it's new technology, new bits of kit to monitor and maintain."
Ocadoʼs On-Grid Robotic Pick (OGRP) solution is a robotic arm that is installed directly on the grid. The robotic arm is equipped with machine vision, deep reinforcement learning, and advanced sensing. Automated Frameload (AFL) literally does the heavy lifting for humans - loading outbound totes from conveyors onto frames, without human intervention.
"AFL will change the way our clients operate,” continues Mark. "The automated loading will reduce repetitive weight lifting, which is a very important step forward..."
For Mark Fryer, while Re:Imagined is a big leap in technology, he notes that this isn't necessarily a novelty in Ocado Technology: "Because we own the equipment and because we operate the equipment, we have the ability to upgrade and enhance the equipment as we move forward. Even without something like Re:Imagined, there has been a lot of product change; we have driven costs down, and performance up and put resiliency into our supply chain.
"As such, a lot of people in our teams are problem solvers. They are designers. They identify requirements and put solutions in place. Reimagined creates a need for that kind of innovative problem solving - figuring out how we optimise our designs and our solutions using this new suite of equipment and technology, to improve our fulfilment centres and to continue keeping them at the front end of a technology space."
Ambition, opportunity, and success
For Mark, Mark, and Jon, the common thread seems to be excitement about the opportunities,and the learning and the growth available to every every engineer. "Any new technology or new development gives the opportunity to learn something new," says Mark Fryer. "I think people miss the value in that sometimes. There's an awful lot that people learn here just through the pace at which we work and how we bring change to the market."
Jon Satinet agrees: “We have a hugely diverse range of skills and experience in the team. What brings everyone together though is the desire to work on cutting-edge technology. Being part of taking ideas and making them an operational reality. As our portfolio of automation grows and becomes more complex it creates new opportunities for our people. There are no easy days in Ocado Engineering but we thrive on the challenges our rapid development brings.”
Mark Bentley sees Re:Imagined as more fuel to motivate Engineers on the ground - to deliver the innovation that keeps that kind of person motivated: "People like to develop. New technology and newness does give you the opportunity to give that to the team, so I'm encouraged by that.
"We often laud, quite rightly, our technology and other developers, but there are whole teams that have to make it work, and help our partners make it work. I think that's probably more exciting actually, because we get to work with this tech right at the sharp end."
Since this article was written, Mark Bentley has moved to a new position as President Americas, Ocado Solutions & Chief Partner Success Officer.
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