Robo-wars forward – how Ocado plans to re-imagine grocery purchasing with new robotics and automation options


600 Sequence bot

Because the Vaccine Financial system opens up, one query that is still unanswered for now’s whether or not the societal shift to on-line grocery purchasing and supply through the COVID disaster can be sustainable?

As diginomica has persistently argued, the genie is effectively and actually out of the bottle right here and though buyers will return to the shops, the necessity to strike a real omni-channel steadiness of on-line and offline would be the problem dealing with not solely grocery corporations, however retailers as a complete.

However for on-line grocery tech platform supplier Ocado there are greater ambitions forward because the agency outlined yesterday with a imaginative and prescient of a not-too-distant future the place a subsequent era of robots will choose and pack groceries and get them to the shopper’s entrance door in as little as two hours.

Ocado has lengthy been well-known for its use of automation and robotics, however the Ocado Re-imagined technique unveiled by CEO Tim Steiner takes this onto one other degree wherein the agency will have the ability to roll out digital distribution facilities to exchange bodily hubs, bringing economies of scale and enabling supermarkets to grow to be extra aggressive towards rapid-delivery rivals.

Steiner defined that presently there’s a mannequin within the sector of small, operated by hand warehouses with a restricted vary, however to be sustainable, they should cost one thing like a 30% premium over a grocery store.

Within the courageous new world pitched by Ocado, a brand new breed of robots – the 600 Sequence bot – will have the ability to choose from 50,000 merchandise and clients can pay basically the identical worth as they might within the grocery store.

What Ocado plans

In sum, Ocado introduced:

  • The 600 Sequence bot, pitched as “the world’s lightest and most effective grocery fulfilment bot” with greater than half of its components 3D printed. It has continuous software program updates and on-demand components which suggests greater utilization of every bot. It additionally enable for a reimagined Ocado Good Platform to be put in in less complicated, cheaper buildings, in addition to in micro fulfilment facilities nearer to clients.
  • A lighter 600 grid and optimized website design which may be in-built weeks reasonably than months, and are available at a a lot decrease value.
  • Automated Frameload to automate the loading of totes with ready-for-delivery buyer orders onto supply frames prepared for dispatch. Ocado argues that this can result in decrease labor prices and greater productiveness per worker.
  • On-grid Robotic Choose to automate the selecting and packing of buyer orders immediately from the grid. Advantages of this tech have been cited as decrease labour prices; decreased footprint; greater throughput within the fulfilment heart; optimization of warehouse design resulting in decrease development prices; and the flexibility to automate inventory consolidation throughout off-peak hours.
  • Ocado Orbit, branded “the world’s first Digital Distribution Middle”. This can be a radical re-thinking of Ocado’s conventional OSP in as far as it eliminates the necessity for a community of regional distribution facilities to ship merchandise to Buyer Fulfilment Facilities (CFC) which have to be a sure minimal dimension for this to be economically viable for suppliers. Ocado Orbit will create a system whereby a number of smaller footprint warehouses share a digital distribution heart, which will use AI and machine studying. Every warehouse acts as a main provide hub for a fraction of the inventory, however all warehouses have entry to the general vary. 
  • Ocado Swift Router to allow supply of final minute, brief lead time orders in addition to bigger, longer lead-time orders, all from the identical van.
  • Ocado Flex permits Ocado retail shoppers to hold on utilizing their very own net outlets and apps whereas profiting from the OSP, thus negating the necessity to write off earlier net investments.

The imaginative and prescient factor

It’s all a daring imaginative and prescient and possibly essentially the most bold strategic improve in Ocado’s 20 12 months historical past. But it surely’s important to assume greater right now, argued Steiner:

Immediately, the business stands at a turning level. Shopper expectations have dramatically modified. Social media has enabled us to peek into existence cultures and cuisines that will beforehand have remained out of sight. We’re extra conscious and aware of our well being and wellbeing and extra selective and discerning about what meals we placed on our tables. Selection and enormous vary matter greater than ever earlier than. Clients need to have the ability to order precisely the merchandise they need.

That instantly begs the query of what’s a large enough vary to select from? Steiner made the purpose that few clients will ever select from greater than a spread of 2000 merchandise:

The problem is that these one to 2000 objects are completely different for each buyer. For instance, one in three of Ocado Retail clients has greater than 1000 objects alone of their favorites. That’s earlier than you get to the additional objects that they might need to add on a subsequent store or on a shop-by-shop foundation. Our vary of fifty,000 or extra merchandise consists of the completely different 2000 merchandise for 98% to 99% of these clients.

One other final result of the pandemic has been a vastly elevated deal with supply choices throughout the whole retail sector. This has been notably true within the on-line grocery sector. Clients need to obtain their purchases when it fits them, stated Steiner:

For some, that is an order that arrives on the weekend or after work. For others they want their meals delivered inside a few hours and even sooner.

The 600 Sequence bot is a important ingredient of the Ocado imaginative and prescient, stated Steiner:

The 600 Sequence bot opens up thrilling new alternatives to rethink our grids and cutting-edge fulfilment facilities. The unconventional discount of forces and loadings utilized from the bots means we are able to now construct ultra-lite grids too. These ultra-thin gentle gauge grids may be in-built parallel. They take weeks, not months, to put in at a lot decrease value. Collectively the lighter bots and grids unlock a wealth of productiveness and environmental advantages. Our 600 collection bots are ultra-energy environment friendly and require loads much less energy to realize the identical throughput. Because of the numerous discount in warmth load, our websites would require much less chill gear, driving vitality consumptions ranges and total development prices additional down.

Using the brand new tech will allow additional automation of guide duties, added James Matthews, CEO of Ocado Expertise, together with what he known as “essentially the most bodily demanding job” – the loading of customer-ready orders onto supply frames for dispatch:

Immediately we have now a technology-enabled guide course of. Algorithms information human operators [with] the perfect place within the body for every tote, optimizing for environment friendly unloading and sequencing, optimum utilization supply vans, in addition to essentially the most environment friendly distribution factors in a automobile.

The Ocado imaginative and prescient is constructed across the thought of the Automated Frameload, the place AI techniques allow essentially the most environment friendly loading of any tote with out the necessity for human contact, he added:

No two frames are precisely the identical, every with a slight imperfection, accounting for the powerful life they dwell within the grocery provide chain. Automated Frameload actually does the heavy lifting for people, caring for a bodily demanding job. Because the shift to on-line grocery accelerates, right here is one other step on our journey to automate labour intensive, tedious and hard jobs.

Ocado estimates that the varied parts of its reimagined technique will cut back labor prices by 30% within the medium time period and 40% in the long run. That’s actually excellent news for suppliers, though maybe much less so in case you’re a warehouse employee…

My take

The profitable grocery retailers have at all times been those who’ve been cost-dominating of their area. The winners in grocery can be those that can hit the candy spot between delivering the perfect buyer proposition throughout alternative, lead occasions and worth at the perfect economics for retailers.

This can be a daring imaginative and prescient assertion from Ocado, one which comes 20 years on this week from the primary supply made by the corporate out of a small momentary warehouse in Hemel Hempstead, England. The brand new tech coming down the pipeline place the agency to have the ability to supply its options to a better variety of shoppers – and, critically, to allow these shoppers to supply their very own clients the required steadiness between worth and effectivity.

That’s the plan then. Now it simply must be executed on over the approaching months and years. And if Ocado can flip a revenue within the meantime, that will be good too.


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