Robot charger blamed for Ocado warehouse fire

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Nicola Byrne

Ocado said an electrical fault in a charging unit was the cause of a serious fire at the company’s Andover warehouse back in February.

The news was part of a wider document, circulated to investors, on the grocer’s imminent partnership with multinational retailer Marks + Spencer, which is set to purchase 50% of Ocado’s shares for up to £750m.

The fire, which took more than 200 firefighters to put out, destroyed the warehouse and its contents, and led to homes being evacuated.

One of the battery charging units at the edge of the storage grid, where robots pick and pack customer orders, caused the plastic lid on the top of a grocery carrying bot to catch alight.

The online supermarket said the reasons for the fire “gives the board confidence that, going forward, there are no significant implications for the risk profile of the group’s assets or the viability of the group’s model”.

The company has “undertaken a number of remedial actions intended to eliminate the risk of such an event occurring again”, which includes the introduction of additional localised smoke detectors, heat sensors, and the removal of the plastic lid on its bots which “serve no practical purpose.”

The warehouse was designed to handle up to 1,100 robots on a grid, using Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things technology to navigate over 250,000 storage locations.

An analysis of solutions for rebuilding the warehouse has begun. Ocado said it will “inform the market in due course on its plans to replace capacity in both the short and medium term and the impact that these plans will have on Ocado Retail’s target for growth in its revenue by 10 to 15% in 2019.” The company’s share price has dropped by 2.59% since Friday, at the time of publication.

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