Ro­botic shop – with 400 jobs for hu­mans

New home de­liv­ery store will be fully au­to­mated

Harefield Gazette - - NEWS - By Robert Cumber robert.cumber@trin­i­tymir­

SU­PER­MAR­KET gi­ant Asda claims to be un­veil­ing the ‘fu­ture of shop­ping’ in Houn­slow.

The com­pany is open­ing a hi-tech new home de­liv­ery cen­tre in Cran­ford next April, with 400 jobs avail­able, and says it will rev­o­lu­tionise the rapidly ex­pand­ing sec­tor.

A mam­moth two mil­lion items a week will be de­liv­ered to peo­ple’s homes via the 110,000sqft unit, off Cran­ford Lane.

It will be Asda’s fourth home de­liv­ery cen­tre in the UK but the first to be fully au­to­mated – with 180 ro­bots whizzing about and shift­ing con­tain­ers, and more than 2km of tracks de­liv­er­ing items to and from work­sta­tions.

Greg Rod­mell, Asda’s oper­a­tions de­vel­op­ment man­ager, said: “This is the home shop­ping cen­tre of the fu­ture.

“Rather than walk­ing round a su­per­mar­ket pick­ing things from shelves, the packers will stand still and the totes (con­tain­ers) will come to them.

“This is a pi­lot not just for Asda but the whole of Walmart, so if it’s suc­cess­ful the same model could be in­tro­duced in Mex­ico, China, Canada and many more coun­tries.”

De­spite the breath­tak­ing scale of the tech­nol­ogy in place, some hu­man hands are still re­quired – for now at least – to un­load de­liv­er­ies, pack the con­tain­ers and drive them to peo­ple’s homes.

Asda is look­ing to re­cruit about 400 peo­ple to work there, with job in­for­ma­tion al­ready avail­able on its web­site and ap­pli­ca­tions in­vited from the mid­dle of next month.

Each picker is told ex­actly where in a con­tainer items should be placed to make best use of the ca­pac­ity, and packed con­tain­ers head­ing to the vans in the pre­cise or­der they are to be de­liv­ered.

Greg said this means smaller goods can be packed at the as­ton­ish­ing rate of more than 550 per hour – nearly five times the 120 ex­pected of packers work­ing at su­per­mar­kets.

A fleet of 125 vans will ferry the goods to hun­dreds of thou­sands of homes across the M4 cor­ri­dor, with each ve­hi­cle head­ing out four times a day.

If this is the fu­ture, does that mean phys­i­cal su­per­mar­kets will soon be a thing of the past?

Greg, who spent 16 years in the Army be­fore join­ing Asda as a Christ­mas temp in 1994 and work­ing his way up, in­sisted not.

He added: “When we launched home de­liv­er­ies, there was a con­cern we would can­ni­balise sales from the shops but it’s ac­tu­ally in­creased cus­tom in our stores.

“It’s a case of what you can dream th­ese days, be­cause they can do any­thing with com­put­ers.

“There’s no rea­son we can’t de­sign a robot which will put some­thing onto a trol­ley, and then all we would need is peo­ple to move pro­duce from the de­liv­ery trucks into stor­age.

“Ama­zon’s tri­alling drone de­liv­er­ies but I can’t see that hap­pen­ing near Heathrow. There’s enough trou­ble get­ting an ex­tra runway.”

n IT ASDA THE FU­TURE: Staff out­side the new home de­liv­ery cen­tre in Cran­ford with Houn­slow mayor Nisar Ma­lik (third from left) and Nigel Yates from Houn­slow Job­cen­tre (far right) – Asda has an­nounced that ro­bots will sort peo­ple’s shop­ping

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