February 6, 2019 / 8:23 AM / 3 months ago

Fire badly damages British online pioneer Ocado's robotic site

LONDON, Feb 6 (Reuters) - A fire at the flagship robotic distribution centre of British online supermarket pioneer Ocado is now under control but has badly damaged the complex, the fire service said on Wednesday.

Around 20 fire engines and 200 firefighters were called to the highly automated site in Andover, southern England, at 0244 GMT on Tuesday to tackle a blaze that raged for over 24 hours, prompting part of the roof to collapse.

The Andover plant, which can process 65,000 orders a week, is Ocado’s third automated warehouse and has been instrumental in the firm winning four major deals to sell its technology to international retailers such as U.S. group Kroger Co and France’s Casino.

While Ocado’s first two centres required humans to load thousands of crates traveling on miles of conveyor belts, Andover has hundreds of robots speeding along at four metres per second on giant grids.

Ocado said on Tuesday the fire had broken out on one of the grids of robots, forcing it to suspend operations.

The group was founded by three Goldman Sachs bankers 18 years ago. After struggling for years to post a profit it has flourished in the last year and nearly doubled its stock market value after striking the technology deals.

Its shares were down 3 percent in early trading on Wednesday.

The group’s 7 billion pound market valuation is linked to its future as a technology provider to international retailers needing to roll out online delivery services to compete with tech giants such as Amazon.

In Britain it holds 1 percent of the grocery market.

The company on Tuesday reported full-year earnings and cautioned that investment in partnership deals would hit short-term profits. (Reporting by James Davey; editing by Kate Holton)

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