Fire destroys Ocado Andover fulfilment centre

Ocado’s shares have fallen 6% in the last 24 hours as the apparently minor blaze went from being controlled on Thursday to destroying its Andover customer fulfilment centre over night.

The fire began in the early hours of Tuesday morning, and as Apex Insight reported yesterday was thought to have been brought under control. This wasn’t the case, and now more than 200 firefighters have worked to tackle it as it took hold of the whole fulfilment centre.

The Ocado site is heavily automated and 30,000 orders a week are processed at the unit, which is said to handle around 10% of the company’s grocery output. All customer orders from the site have been suspended.

“Once we have had time to assess the damage and prepare a plan to return the CFC (customer fulfilment centre) to operation we will update further as appropriate,” an Ocado spokesman said.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service now say around 70 firefighters are at the site, though during the height of the fire, firefighters from as far away as Kent were brought in.

Chief fire officer Neil Odin said, ”This building is not meant for humans to be interacting with the racking and the storage – it has robots moving racking on to loading bays, so for firefighters trying to get in that high and to make an effective fire-fighting strategy, it has been very difficult,” he said.

Given Odin’s comments this could impact the way that automated fulfilment centres are designed and built in the future as there are flammable batteries in many robots, yet the system needs to be human-friendly enough for firefighting to take place. It is worthy of note that sprinklers were activated at the outset but failed to tackle the blaze.

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