Ocado’s fulfilment technology suffers from fire again

Ocado’s fulfilment technology has suffered from an apparent vulnerability to catch fire, for the second time. 

A significant incident broke out at the e-retail technology provider’s own facility at Erith in Kent, England, on Friday, July 16, with parts of the complex continuing to burn for several hours. The fire brigade remained at the site until the next day.

Press reports suggest that Ocado assigned the cause of the fire to the collision of three robots at the top of their ‘stack’. The ‘stack’ is a cube-shaped stock-holding mechanism over which the robots pass, selecting the products as they move. Although a number of other companies now offer similar materials handling solutions, the power of Ocado’s robotics and its ability to integrate it with its information systems is a core strength of Ocado’s technology. However, it seems that the electricity requirements of the robots is considerable and this creates a vulnerability to over-heating.

This is the second time a fire has broken out with the robotic stack. In 2019, a 784,080 sq ft automated fulfilment centre in Andover in Southern England burnt to the ground, caused apparently by a plastic lid on top of one of the robots melting and compounded by the apparent dysfunction of the sprinkler system.

Bearing in mind that the Ocado ‘Smart-platform’ software and robotic picking and storage infrastructure are increasingly one of the leading logistics solutions for large retailer’s grocery e-retail solutions around the world, it is problems are worth noting.

For example, over the past few days, Ocado has announced a deal with the Spanish grocery retailer Alcampo, which is a subsidiary of Auchan Retail, to build a “Customer Fulfilment Centre (CFC)” to “serve the Madrid region from 2024, with additional CFCs to be announced at future dates.” And Ocado has many other customers for its fulfilment centre technology, from Kroger in the US, Aeon in Asia-Pacific, Casino in France, ICA Gruppen in Sweden and Sobeys in Canada so any problems with the technology would have a significant impact on many grocery home delivery operations.

Source: Transport Intelligence, July 20, 2021

Author: Thomas Cullen