We work with global engineering companies, top academic institutions and government bodies to create innovative solutions for retail and beyond.
The Ocado Customer Fulfilment Centres (or CFCs, for short) are our most established major distribution depots.
These sites are automated warehouses where Ocado products are stored, picked and dispatched using highly sophisticated, state-of-the art automation and robotics systems.
Alongside maintaining and improving the current warehouses in Hatfield (CFC1) and Dordon (CFC2), we are also working on developing the OSP robot hive and related automation systems that power the new Ocado Smart Platform CFCs which feature cutting-edge technology that completely revolutionizes our approach.
We started pilot deliveries from the Hatfield CFC1 in 2001, and today it completes around 150,000 orders per week.
It's equivalent to 11 football pitches in size and stands 20 meters tall.
As our most established warehouse, it has been the testing ground for many innovations as we've developed and refined our technology over the years. Nowadays, our job is not just to maintain our systems, but to continue to find new ways to push capacity and efficiency.
Our second warehouse was opened by Prime Minister David Cameron in 2013.
The site is 35 acres – that's about 17.5 football pitches to Hatfield's 11 – and completes around 180,000 orders per week.
At the time it was built, it was the largest fulfilment centre project underway in the UK, and generated around 500 jobs in just five weeks, quickly growing to several thousands in the following months.
Ocado Smart Platform CFCs
The Ocado Smart Platform (OSP) is a modular and scalable software and hardware platform designed to put the world’s largest retailers online (more information available here).
The OSP CFCs include a robot grid that represents a breakthrough in engineering, enabling Ocado to continue leapfrogging itself and its competitors from a technological point of view.
The first OSP CFC went live in December 2016 and is located in Andover (CFC3), it is designed to feature up to 1,000 robots working together on a grid roughly the size of a football pitch.
The second OSP CFC (Erith CFC4) is currently under construction and is projected to be three times the size of Andover CFC3. When opened, it will be the largest automated warehouse for online grocery in the world.
Working with Bericote Properties and Gallagher on the Erith CFC4
The Buildings Technology team has recently been working in partnership with Bericote Properties and Gallagher to design and construct Erith CFC4, the world’s largest automated warehouse for grocery retail. The 563,000 sq ft facility, located on Bronze Age Way in Crossdox, has now been successfully completed and is due to go live in the near future. When operational, the Erith CFC will have the capacity to handle in excess of 200,000 orders per week.
The Erith CFC gives our business the ability to rapidly expand and offers our OSP customers in the UK additional capacity. This new facility will be our fourth grocery warehouse and the second based on the revolutionary OSP robot hive technology.
Working with Siemens on the new pick stations
Product development team, Automation Engineering
Siemens believes we are on the threshold of the fourth industrial revolution and that automation is being followed by the digitalisation of production. The goal: an increase of productivity, efficiency, speed, and quality, resulting in higher competitiveness for companies on their way to the future of industry.
Our existing warehouses in Hatfield and Dordon now run on Siemens S7 platforms using PLCs and associated equipment to control over 20km of conveyor networks at each site. We have also adopted a Siemens Safe PLC safety architecture. Both elements, coupled with our Ocado Technology developed SCADA systems enable the precision control and rapid response required by our 24/7 centers.
For our new automated storage and retrieval system in Andover, we needed a pick station which allowed us to bring product into the machine using our proprietary robotic technology and enable us to buffer and accumulate the product in the station in a way that no ‘off the shelf’ pick station would allow us to do.
Consequently, we allied ourselves with Siemens to provide the level of customisation and verification in functionality and performance for our bespoke pick station and worked closely with them throughout the entire design process to ensure that we were able to deliver a solution according to the project’s objectives and the design brief for the station.
The collaboration with Siemens was a success and the pick station is now in operation in our site in Andover working with the wider system to reduce our times to pick an average order from 2 hours to around 5 minutes.
Working with the Cranfield Impact Centre on AGV safety
Product development team, Automation Engineering
Whenever we deploy a new product within our highly automated warehouses, we strive to be prepared for any eventuality. This means ensuring minimal damage if the worst case scenario should arise.
With thousands of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) operating within our latest CFCs, safety related products must comply with the relevant safety standards including, but not limited to, crash proofing. We required a partner capable of providing expert knowledge to previously unseen technologies while being able to act as rapidly and flexibly as we do.
The Cranfield Impact Centre is the crash test facility of choice for numerous Formula One and automotive teams and one of the few nationwide with the capability and flexibility to meet our demands. Professor Jim Watson, an internationally renowned expert, has worked alongside our Product Development team to develop and carry out test plans for our safety products since before the first live tests began.
The Cranfield Impact Centre offered a high level of capability and flexibility when it came to testing the crash barriers of our AGV robots. They also offered invaluable on-site testing abilities, allowing us to ensure the safety of all elements of our autonomous warehouses in the worst case scenario.
The facility at our disposal includes:
a pneumatic sled impact area with high speed cameras
a vertical impact drop tower
a test bed for quasi-static loading
a centre of gravity and moment of inertia calculation rig
However, a key advantage of our collaboration has been the ability to install all required sensors in situ within our CFCs to test the bots under real life conditions, greatly reducing the number of approximations which must be made, thereby improving the reliability of our tests and the safety of our teams on site.