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Mike Lee

The Chartered Engineer behind your grocery delivery

Engineering at Ocado

Engineering and robots might not be the first things you associate with the grocery retailer Ocado. But in fact, the company operates a fully automated warehouse known as a Customer Fulfilment Centre (CFC) using their robot technology.

1,000 robots run across two grids, each the size of a football pitch. They identify and retrieve boxes containing specific products, then deliver these to a picker who takes out the required number for the customer shopping basket.

For the grids to function, complex electro-mechanical systems and equipment are needed. This is where Mike comes in.

“I develop supply chain strategy for international sourcing of all the parts we need for the grids and the supporting elements,” he says. “I manage a small, but growing team which delivers special, automated components, as well as the elements needed to maintain the CFCs 24-7.”

Mike works with technology that is constantly improving, which means that the supply chain has to adapt quickly and flexibly.

The challenge, Mike says, is that some of the lead times on components can be up to six months. So he has to think creatively and employ his problem-solving skills.

 “Let’s say we have an aluminium extrusion,” he explains. “We may know that we need to change the machining on it at some point in the future, but we haven’t identified what that improvement is yet.

“I have it extruded, but I choose to machine it locally rather than close to the mill so that we can maintain flexibility to the latest possible point.”

The key to solving problems is not just having a head for engineering – it is also communicating across the business.

“We work closely with the Ocado Engineering Product Development team to ensure we’ve got foresight of what’s coming,” Mike says. “That way we can make sure we’ve got the right sort of suppliers to meet that requirement.”

Journey to Chartership

Working at the level of a Chartered Engineer was always part of Mike’s plan.

After a BSc and MEng in Manufacturing Systems Engineering, then a structured graduate training programme, Mike secured his first management position where he documented his achievements for professional registration.

He was later offered a role working as a General Manager in China, and this he says, was the trigger for applying.

“I wanted to get my application for CEng signed off by people who could vouch for me while I had relevant, recent experience,” he says.

“I knew it would be well-regarded in China and that it would demonstrate that I am a professional engineer, which is important to me.

“When I later applied to Ocado, having it on my CV showed that I’d reached a certain standard. I think it meant I was taken more seriously.”

Advice from experience

Mike now mentors graduates and is often asked how he achieved Chartered status.

“The best step is to find an approved training programme, where you’ve got good people around you to support you, encourage you and give you the right sort of experience,” he says.

To those considering registration, he emphasises preparing - well before you are ready to apply.

“The important thing is to document your experience as you go along,” he says. “If you’ve done some good things, you need to record them now so that later you’ve got the information to support what you are saying.”

Start recording your experience - and submit an ‘Intent to Register’ - via our online tool Career Manager.

More information on professional registration is available.

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