Ocado has been forced to cancel thousands of customer’s orders after its picking robots collided and set fire to its largest fulfilment centre in south-east London.
Ocado’s second major fire caused by its automated picking robots in under three years erupted on Friday night at its warehouse in Erith.
The facility’s 800 staff were all evacuated from the premises while around 100 firefighters and 15 fire engines fought to tackle what was described by the London Fire Brigade as a “deep seated” and “challenging operation”.
We're really sorry. Due to a major incident at our Erith warehouse some of our orders have been cancelled. Please be patient with us while we manage this. If this impacts your order, we will be in touch. Thank you.
— ocado (@Ocado) July 16, 2021
It is understood that no-one was hurt in the blaze, which took most of the night to extinguish.
According to Ocado, the fire started when three of its autonomous picking robots, which are able to fulfil 150,000 orders a week at its Erith site, collided.
While Ocado says it hopes to begin fulfilling orders again from the customer fulfilment centre (CFC) “within the coming week”, the blaze threatens to do more lasting damage to its reputation as a technology provider.
Ocado has only just recovered from a devastating fire at its facility in Andover in 2019, now understood to have been caused by an electrical fault with one of the site’s 1000 plus robots.
— London Fire Brigade (@LondonFire) July 16, 2021
The fire is understood to have caused Ocado £110 million in costs, while the fire department incurred costs of £132,000 to extinguish the blaze.
Ocado has shifted its operations away from its consumer retail arm, which it now runs with Marks & Spencer, towards its technology arm which sells its highly automated solution to other grocers across the globe, including Sobeys, Groupe Casino and Kroger.
Its automated logistics solution relies heavily on these automated robots, which have now been responsible for two major fires in a little over two years, causing hundreds of millions of pounds in damages and leading to massive disruption for Ocado’s customers.
“Firefighters worked hard in hot and arduous conditions inside the warehouse,” London Fire Brigade’s station commander Steve Vydelingum said.
“Around 800 staff evacuated before the Brigade arrived. There were no reports of any injuries. The fire is very deep seated and firefighters will continue to be at the scene into Saturday (17 July) damping down hot spots.”
An Ocado spokesperson added: “The incident appears to have been caused by the collision of three bots on the grid resulting in a fire,” the company said in a statement.
“The correct protocols were successfully implemented including the evacuation of the building, the activation of the sprinkler system and the presence of the London Fire Brigade. No one has been injured and all colleagues on site are safe. The damage is limited to a small section of less than 1 per cent of the grid, having been contained by planned fire-attenuation measures.”