Inside Ocado: Cutting-Edge Technology and Addressing Diversity in Engineering

Inside Ocado Engineering

Ocado Technology

Fulfilling an average of 291,000 customer orders per week, Ocado has become the world’s largest dedicated online grocery retailer. One of the divisions at the centre of their slick operation is Ocado Engineering, the leg of the business that designs, delivers and sustains their cutting-edge engineering and construction solutions.

Orders are completed across Ocado’s four Customer Fulfilment Centres (CFCs) throughout the country. First-generation CFCs are in Hatfield in Hertfordshire and Dordon in North Warwickshire and feature automated cranes, large-scale goods-to-person systems and kilometres of conveyor belts.

True to the ethos of their business, Ocado have since furthered their technology and created second-generation CFCs, using the cutting-edge technology and engineering designed for their latest project, otherwise known as The Ocado Smart Platform (OSP). Located in Andover and Erith, the new centres include a robotic swarm capable of picking customer orders in 5 minutes by whizzing around on top of an aluminium grid the size of a football pitch – a first of its kind.

The robots in the OSP CFCs collaborate and move several metres per second, carrying crates weighing tens of kilograms and the system is controlled via a 4G-based wireless protocol, using the most advanced real-time grocery optimisation solution ever created for logistics.

The Ocado Smart Platform is an end-to-end solution designed to power all aspects of an online retail business. Several international deals have been struck in less than a year, including a huge agreement to identify up to 20 automated warehouse sites in the next three years for US grocery giant Kroger.

This growth and development is providing huge opportunities for engineers. Allegra Keogh, Lead Controls Engineer, said:

“I joined at an exciting time. Ocado is now delivering the Ocado Smart Platform to leading grocery retailers around the world and I thrive in being an integral part of the development. In my other roles I wasn’t always able to grow or change, but now I feel I can make my name in a field that is innovative, open and continually improving.”

Diversity and Closing the Skills Gap

The skills gap in engineering is no secret and both Ocado and ATA are partners of the 2018 Year of Engineering, a Government initiative designed to encourage more young people into engineering.

When asked about their work with the Year of Engineering, Greg Hutton, Head of Construction and Engineering at Ocado, said:

“I believe that more needs to be done to help young people to make well-informed subject and career decisions. When designing our programme for the Year of Engineering campaign, we focused our attention on project-based work – we want students to experience STEM principles in real life and have the chance to speak to and learn from STEM mentors over a longer period of time. We hope this will positively impact the perception of engineering as a whole.”

A great example of Ocado’s Year of Engineering efforts is their recent Go4SET hub, which gave a group of year 9 students the chance to visit head office and experience life as an engineer at Ocado. With mentoring from Ocado engineers, students were given a brief to design their own factory, which they came back to showcase seven weeks later at a Go4SET celebration day.

Other initiatives have included an engineering masterclass hosted by Project Engineer, Madhavi Kotecha, that educated students on the robotics used in the Ocado Smart Platform and continued work with local schools, such as The Rawlett School in Tamworth, to discuss the careers paths available to them.

Ocado Engineering Masterclass

The skills gap is just one of the engineering issues that Ocado is looking to overcome – the other is the lack of diversity in the profession. Only 11% of the engineering workforce is female, and although this is a positive increase from 9% in 2015, there is still work to do. Ocado Engineering run multiple campaigns throughout the year to encourage female engineers to join the workforce, and believe in grassroots initiatives, which is why there are so many school-based initiatives to inspire students of different genders and background from an early age.

To help further increase diversity in the workplace, Ocado also have ‘Disability Confident Leader’ status with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The Disability Confident scheme has seen over 7000 companies sign up, but only 2% have reached ‘Leader’ status. Ocado is committed to the scheme and disabled applicants are invited to visit the centres to see first-hand whether the role is right for them.

Greg said: “We believe every employee has something valuable to contribute and for us, diversity breeds productivity.”

ATA and Ocado Partnership

ATA Recruitment began a partnership with Ocado in early 2017 to provide engineering recruitment solutions to each of their Customer Fulfilment Centres.

During that time, ATA has placed many high-calibre Maintenance and Controls Engineers, as well as Maintenance Team Leaders and Managers. Our strengthening relationship now sees ATA recruiting for Ocado’s newest fully-automated centre. The new 563,000sq ft facility in Erith has three times the capacity of the existing Andover site and will be able to process over 200,000 customer orders per week.

The cutting-edge technology used in the OSP CFCs creates a demand for engineers to service and maintain the machinery – if you’re an engineer and are interested in working for one of the world’s most innovative engineering businesses, contact us below to discuss our Ocado vacancies.

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