Tharsus, the leading designer and manufacturer of electro-mechanical systems, has been unveiled as the long-term partner in Ocado’s warehouse automation project.
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 over 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 a few minutes.
Tharsus worked in close collaboration with Ocado Technology and Ocado Engineering to rapidly prototype, develop and refine the robot for mass production. “One of the greatest challenges has been the management of thousands of bots moving on one grid simultaneously, each carrying over 30 kg of groceries while moving at several metres per second with just millimetres between each machine” explained Tharsus Chief Technical Officer Dave Swan.
“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 existed before, so both companies had to innovate in several areas related to software and hardware design to make this system fully operational.
“We knew that our vision for the Ocado Smart Platform was challenging from the outset” stated Ocado’s Chief Operating Officer Mark Richardson “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. The robot is one of the fundamental elements of our system and Tharsus has been a great partner to help us achieve our ambition. They’ve worked as a core member of our team, providing great technical insight into the design, with a flexible manufacturing operation to deliver machines to our site. Their support has been invaluable to us in getting our first fulfilment centre operational last year.”
Ocado plan to introduce the robots at other sites, including their fourth grocery CFC in Erith. To meet their implementation ambitions, Tharsus now have the capacity to produce thousands of units per year.
“Our collaboration with Ocado and strong relationship with our critical component suppliers has produced a great result of which we’re very proud” added Swan. “The partnership has produced a world-class goods-handling robot in a very short space of time. As we ramp-up production and start joint design of the next generation robot, we’re looking forward to supporting Ocado fulfil its ambitions in the UK and abroad.”