Undeniably it will be warehouse automation that defines not only the future landscape for big warehousing, but also the winners and losers in the struggle to win online shoppers, particularly in the grocery sector. The driving force is the meteoric rise in online shopping and seismic changes taking place among the big delivery players like Amazon and Ocado, remorselessly eating away at traditional retailer set-ups. Britain is leading the way in this, where more than 7% of grocery sales are online, which is about four times the share in America.
Curiously though, in Ocado’s case it did not find its automation solution among the many, large warehouse automation specialists, although not for the want of trying. They developed their own solution so therefore now see themselves as a technology provider for large, overseas supermarket more than an online grocer deliverer. The infrastructure, technology and software needed simply didn’t exist hence why they created their own.
In a southern England warehouse, the fruit of such investment is on display, handling over 65,000 orders a week. It uses air traffic control and AI to coordinate across 700 factory robots – resembling a cross between R2-D2 and a dorm fridge. They zip across a grid of thousands of crates filled with groceries to pluck the food for delivery to banks of workers who pick the items in to red plastic boxes for customer deliveries.
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