Reinventing the warehouse with UK-engineered automation

Tharsus, the leading UK designer and manufacturer of electro-mechanical systems, has been unveiled as the long-term partner in Ocado’s ground-breaking warehouse automation project.

Automation - Tharsus worked in close collaboration with Ocado Technology and Ocado Engineering to rapidly prototype, develop and refine the robot for mass production - image courtesy of Tharsus.
Tharsus worked in close collaboration with Ocado Technology and Ocado Engineering to rapidly prototype, develop and refine the robot for mass production – image courtesy of Tharsus.

The two companies have been working closely together since 2013 when Tharsus first became the official co-designer and manufacturer of the robotic vehicle that now forms the foundation of the game-changing Ocado Smart Platform.

Ocado is the world’s largest dedicated online grocery retailer with more than 580,000 active customers in the UK.  The revolutionary robot hive system built in partnership with Tharsus features a swarm of robots retrieving crates of groceries from beneath a grid structure.

The hive was recently deployed in Ocado’s Andover customer fulfilment centre (CFC) and is enabling the company to maximise the efficiency of food deliveries and significantly reduce customer order picking times from hours to just minutes.

Tharsus worked in close collaboration with Ocado Technology and Ocado Engineering to rapidly prototype, develop and refine the robot for mass production.

Tharsus chief technical officer, Dave Swan, explained: “One of the greatest challenges has been the management of thousands of bots moving on one grid simultaneously, each carrying over 30kg of groceries while moving at several metres per second with just millimetres between each machine.

“The robots need to accelerate and decelerate rapidly and stop with millimetre accuracy. They need to pick up and carry a heavy payload over long distances and be able to run for many hours on a single battery charge”.

Nothing of this scale, sophistication or modularity reputedly existed previously, so both companies had to innovate in several areas related to software and hardware design to make this system fully operational.

Ocado’s chief operating officer, Mark Richardson commented: “We knew that our vision for the Ocado Smart Platform was challenging from the outset. We wanted to transform the way Ocado operates and also be able to offer the system to other global retailers to transform the way they serve their customers.

Ocado plan to introduce the robots at other sites, including its fourth grocery CFC in Erith. To meet the implementation ambitions, Tharsus now has the capacity to produce thousands of units each year.

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