Retail and robotics company Ocado has unveiled its latest warehouse robot, the 600 series. Cheaper and lighter than its predecessor, the 500 series, the all-new bot features over 300 parts made with HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology. This is more than half of the total number of machine parts.
Ever since COVID-19 hit, it seems almost everything is moving towards Industry 4.0 at an accelerated pace. That means more cloud, more digital, and more automation. In the case of software, everything is offloaded to AWS and Microsoft Azure, which puts extreme pressure on semiconductor supplies as server production increases. For manufacturing, this has led to an increased focus on 3D printing. For production and warehousing, we’ll see greater attempts at automation, something Ocado knows a little about.
Founded in 2000, the Ocado Group participates in a diverse set of activities, such as artificial intelligence for fraud detection. However, he is best known for his work in retail, where he uses a online platform to deliver groceries directly to market companies like Kroger. It also provides direct-to-consumer grocery delivery in the UK
Just a year before the pandemic took over the world, Ocado announced plans to use robots to manage the 55,000 products it stocks. The suction arms would handle hard, durable items, while the “soft hands” would handle delicate goods, such as fruits and vegetables. If you’ve never seen a “robot swarm” grocery shopping before, the video below will amaze and baffle you:
The 600 series is the latest in its attempt at warehouse automation. Using MJF, more than 300 parts optimized for the robot topology were 3D printed. This, in turn, allows the machine to be lighter overall, so it uses less energy and reduces the overall costs associated with Ocado’s robot grids for micro-distribution centers. For production purposes, the company is evaluating options for locating HP 3D printers either in a central production facility or in a warehouse where spare parts can be printed on demand to repair 600-series systems.
“Since the 600 Series robots are very energy efficient and require much less energy to achieve the same throughput from the same footprint, new sites will require less cooling equipment, which will reduce levels energy consumption and overall building costs. The dramatic reduction in materials used for our lighter grids not only makes site design easier, but also allows us to install our new technology in simpler buildings, dramatically reducing the time and cost associated with building purpose-built facilities. designed,” the company said. .
Along with the new hardware, the company unveiled new software called Ocado Orbit, which the company describes as the world’s first virtual fulfillment center. This concept allows Ocado to avoid the need for regional distribution centers that supply each of its Customer Order Fulfillment Centers (CFCs).
Smaller warehouses share a virtual distribution center that allows them to access larger inventory provided by suppliers, providing the economies of scale needed to reduce costs. Each individual warehouse keeps only a portion of the stock, shipping products from each warehouse to the next to ensure local customers have the groceries they want.
Think about distributed storage, as opposed to centralized storage, with the virtual center fulfilling the role of managing this entire product. Machine learning allows the system to improve over time, balancing inventory correctly and, according to Ocado, reducing food waste.
Not only does Ocado’s use of 3D printing present an interesting use case, but its automated fulfillment process appears to be one that could apply to our industry and manufacturing as a whole. One could imagine a large 3D printing service desk using AM-Flow’s technology to route products to a massive network like the one used by Ocado, where robots could shuttle to pick them up and bring them to the location of the office. appropriate shipment.
We already know that companies such as Concept Laser have imagined similar shuttle robots to move materials and print chambers around a metal 3D printing plant. Seeing Ocado’s robots in action makes such an idea all the more feasible.