Ocado is Britain’s largest online-only retailer. Its supply chain benefits enormously from the absence of physical stores, making it far more efficient than its competitors. However, this means it has to work hard to maintain high-quality goods, and keep its own logistics fleet running.
Alexander Harvey from Ocado Technology explained to the audience on IMHX 2019’s Centre Stage how the firm has leveraged state-of-the-art technology to create an ultra-efficient warehousing operation, starting with the innovative concept of ‘digital twins.’
Ocado’s warehouses are highly automated, using what Harvey described as ‘washing machines on wheels’ – small, mobile robots – moving across a vast grid system the size of three football pitches.
Equipped with grabbers, these would roam around the site fetching products, running on Ocado’s own proprietary wireless system to ensure optimisation.
This system was developed using a digital twin. This is a simulated version of the warehouse that was created long before it was built. It underwent significant testing and analysis to ensure the system would be able to make predictions about robot movement and gather real-time data on errors and faults.
In the future, Harvey remarked, augmented reality would continue to transform this system, and testing is ongoing to further integrate robots into the operations, so that humans and robots can collaborate and add further optimisation.