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3D Printing in Mass Production: The Impact of Ocado's 3D Printed Robots

Handling a whopping 55,000 products efficiently is no small feat, and that's where the Ocado Group's 600 Series Robot steps in as a marvel of engineering. This robotic wonder is a fascinating piece of innovation, particularly because it utilizes topology-optimized 3D printed parts. The brilliance lies in making the robot five times lighter than its predecessor, enhancing its agility and efficiency within a custom-designed warehouse.

As these robots scurry around the facility, swiftly moving from one point to another, their primary mission is to pick up groceries and deliver them to awaiting orders. The Ocado Group initially developed a precursor to this system, but over time, they recognized the potential for significant improvement through the integration of 3D printing technology. By employing 3D printing, Ocado achieved advantages such as lower part costs, quicker iteration times, and an overall reduction in energy consumption throughout the facility; an incredible achievement for 3D printing in a mass production setting.

Utilizing the Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) process, specifically designed for nylon parts, Ocado opted for a process well-qualified and familiar within the industry. The beauty of topology-optimized parts lies in their efficiency – designed to hold specific structures, these organic-like pieces efficiently use only the necessary material, reflecting the principles of evolution on an accelerated scale.

The impact of 3D printing isn't limited to joints and hardware; even the wheels of these robots are 3D printed, ensuring the removal of unnecessary material and further enhancing the overall light-weighting of the system. The robots operate within a hive-like environment, aptly named "The Hive," where a multitude of these machines collaboratively works together. The lighter weight of the robots translates to reduced electricity consumption, allowing for more cost-effective warehouse construction and facilitating the company's rapid expansion.

What makes 3D printing indispensable in this context is not only the efficiency but also the scalability it offers. Traditional manufacturing processes, with their high startup costs, become cost-prohibitive for producing intricate robotic systems. The risk of tooling up for such complex machinery is significantly mitigated by the efficiency of 3D printing, enabling Ocado to allocate resources directly into robot production rather than hefty tooling expenses. This strategic use of 3D printing has proven to be a game-changer for Ocado, allowing them to make their robotic systems more efficiently, affordably, and at a scale that aligns with their rapid growth aspirations.


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