New robotic test programme at supermarkets

Williams Advanced Engineering, Aerofoil Energy and Inovo join forces

Williams Advanced Engineering, Aerofoil Energy and Inovo join forces on new robotic test programme to improve supermarket fridge efficiency

  • R&D initiative, based at Williams Advanced Engineering (WAE) in Grove, sees Inovo’s unique collaborative robots emulate the real-world opening and closing of supermarket fridge doors
  • Energy-saving fridges feature Aerofoil’s F1-inspired technology, which feature an aerodynamic device that prevents cold air from spilling out into the aisle
  • Aerofoil Energy and Inovo Robotics were scouted by WAE’s Technology Ventures programme, which supports  the growth of early stage technology businesses.
  • Since 2019 the R&D test programme has delivered 10 new energy saving technologies which have already entered the market and are delivering significant energy savings for supermarkets

Williams Advanced Engineering (WAE), Aerofoil Energy and Inovo Robotics are working together on an innovative new R&D programme that uses robots to further improve the energy efficiency of supermarket fridges.

Based at WAE’s site in Grove, Oxfordshire, the pioneering new initiative sees Inovo’s collaborative robots – called ‘cobots’ – repeatedly opening and closing the doors of test fridges to emulate real-world supermarket trading conditions. These fridges feature the revolutionary F1-inspired Aerofoil shelf edge technology along with Aerofoil Energy’s new “Vortex” energy efficient fridge technologies.

The three companies set up the robotic real-world supermarket emulating test programme at Grove in 2019. It has delivered 10 new energy saving technologies which have already entered the market and are delivering significant energy savings for supermarkets.

Aerofoil’s shelf edge technology, which has been rolled out across many of the UK’s supermarkets since 2017, is inspired by the design of a Formula One wing. This aerodynamic device channels the cold air that falls from the top of a fridge down the front, preventing it from spilling out into the aisle, saving up to 30% of a supermarket's energy costs.

Aerofoil Energy and WAE partnered together on this design in 2015, the collaboration inspiring the creation of the Foresight Williams Technology Funds with Foresight Group, which was launched in 2016 and helps grow small and medium-sized UK technology and engineering businesses, giving them access to expert technical expertise and investment.

In 2018, Inovo Robotics received investment from the fund in its collaborative robotic technology, whose USPs are its ease of programming installation and a versatile, modular robotic arm which can be adapted depending on the application.

Henry Wood, Inovo Robotics Co-founder, said: “Inovo’s ‘cobots’ are designed for batch manufacturing. They are modular, versatile, collaborative robots with a user friendly interface which makes configuration for new tasks extremely easy. They are ideally suited to support the latest round of Aerofoil tests which require a repeatable and reliable system to open fridge doors, emulating in-store conditions and supporting
round-the-clock testing.”

Paul McAndrew, Aerofoil Energy Limited Founder and Technical Director, said: “Aerofoil Energy designs and delivers energy-saving technology to the UK’s leading supermarkets to improve the energy efficiency of display refrigeration. In 2019, in partnership with Williams Advanced Engineering, we set up a cutting edge R&D facility. To date, this has delivered 10 new energy saving technologies which have already entered the market and are delivering significant energy savings for supermarkets.”

Maria Nelson, Williams Advanced Engineering Senior Partnerships Manager, said: “Williams Advanced Engineering is delighted to support both Aerofoil and Inovo with a test programme here at Grove which is designed to emulate in-store conditions whilst measuring product temperatures and energy consumption. The robots have proved invaluable during this programme and we’re proud to bring two of our Technology Ventures companies together to support the testing of further energy efficient technologies.”

About Williams Advanced Engineering (“WAE”)

Williams Advanced Engineering Limited is a world-leading technology and engineering services business delivering pioneering innovation to improve performance, efficiency and sustainability to a global customer base.

Combining cutting-edge technological advances and the industry’s best engineers with precision and speed to market derived from the ultra-competitive environment of motorsport, Williams Advanced Engineering’s capabilities cover a wide range of disciplines.

The company provides ground-breaking innovation covering electrification, lightweighting, systems and whole product development, all aided by advanced simulation, rapid prototype manufacturing, testing, and in close collaboration with our customers, Williams Advanced Engineering is committed to meeting the continued sustainability challenges of the 21st Century.

The company can trace its foundations back to 2010 when Williams Grand Prix Engineering Limited began diversifying its operations; a division which later became Williams Advanced Engineering Limited. In December 2019, Williams Grand Prix Engineering sold a majority equity stake in Williams Advanced Engineering to EMK Capital.

Williams Advanced Engineering has grown from an embryonic business in 2010 to a company employing 350 people engaged in leading-edge and transformative technologies for a growing list of clients. The investment by EMK represented a natural next step in the evolution of the company, unlocking the potential for further growth.

The Company was honoured with the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation 2018.

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About Aerofoil Energy

Aerofoil Energy was founded in 2014 to develop a truly innovative and scalable solution to a global problem. The company’s patented wing-shaped ‘Aerofoils’ are deployed in a vertical plane on the front of each shelf of a supermarket fridge. Instead of creating lift or downforce, as they would on an aeroplane or racing car, they have the effect of drawing the fridge’s cold air stream back into the cabinet, thereby preventing it spilling into the shopping aisle and wasting energy. The Aerofoil blades are manufactured by local businesses in the UK from 100% recycled aluminium and are completely recyclable.

The Aerofoil product has achieved industry-wide adoption by UK supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, the Co-op and M&S. Since 2016, Aerofoils have saved the sector ca. £100 million in energy costs and already avoided some 150 thousand tonnes of CO2 emissions, savings that will continue to accrue year on year. The company is now expanding internationally to deploy its Aerofoil shelf-edge technology in the world’s largest bricks-and-mortar grocery retailers in Europe, the USA and Asia.

Aerofoil Energy received the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation in 2021.

About Inovo Robotics

Inovo Robotics was founded in 2016 to address the need for cost effective, easy to use, robotic automation. The vision was to provide viable alternative to using manual labour for repetitive handling tasks in batch processes, freeing workers time to do more valuable tasks and making robotic automation accessible to companies that could not justify large investment in dedicated, inflexible systems.

The modular arm developed by Inovo over the last four years, offers a unique solution to the challenges faced in batch handling processes, allowing the end user to quickly reconfigure the system, enabling the robot to adapt to a wide range of physically different requirements.