Supply chain disruptions have increased demand for automation, and warehouse robot providers are busy scaling up to meet that demand. Exotec Solutions today announced $335 million in Series D funding, bringing its valuation to $2 billion. The Lille, France-based company said it plans to use the funding for large deployments worldwide and to hire 500 engineers by 2025 to accelerate development of its technology.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to inventory delays and port congestion, and industry analysts expect these challenges to increase in frequency and severity, noted Exotec, which has opened a U.S. office in Atlanta. Supply chain disruptions have increased by 67% year over year, according to a recent report from Resilinc.
“Following the most significant supply chain disruptions of the modern era, there’s only room left for innovation,” said Romain Moulin, co-founder and CEO of Exotec. “While the entire logistics sector is fraught with uncertainty, one of the most prevalent challenges is ongoing labor shortages. Exotec pioneers a new path: elegant collaboration between human and robot workers that delivers warehouse productivity in a lasting, far more sustainable way.”
Skypicker applies algorithms for fast picks
Fast and accurate picking has long been a challenge for robots. Last year, Exotec augmented its Skypod rack-based, order-picking system with Skypicker technology. How does the company's robot arm compare with other available technologies?
”With 600 items picked per hour, the Skypicker performance is within the top tier of the industry,” Moulin told Robotics 24/7. “The articulated arm is powered by revolutionary learning algorithms to find items and compute the best picking point without any human interaction. Items are smartly arranged to optimize space and quality when preparing orders.”
“The Skypicker seamlessly integrates with Skypod manual picking stations,” he explained. “If the Skypicker cannot pick up an item [because] it’s too heavy or oddly shaped, the order is automatically moved to the manual picking station to be completed. The Skypicker complements the Skypod system to create the perfect 'goods to robots' solution, further increasing productivity.”
“The Skypod system has been built to be the best for storage density and picker performance,” said Moulin. “Its hardware and software make it easy to deploy and scale. Customers say, 'We don't know what we'll do in three years,' so we can easily dismount and remount systems in a different warehouse, which you couldn't do with other automation.”
Are there certain items for which Skypicker is especially suitable?
“The Skypicker is able to move solid objects weighing up to 4.4 lb. and with a minimum surface of 0.8 x 0.8 in. at a speed of 4.5 mph,” replied Moulin. “It is ideal for e-commerce and omnichannel fulfillment operations, which often depend on operators picking 'eaches' or individual items.”
“The Skypicker can reach outputs of up to 600 items per hour and ensure sustained order picking for products without handles that account for 30% to 50% of the items in the cosmetics, health, high-tech, cultural, and food sectors,” he added.
Exotec doubles revenue, headcount
Exotec said it has doubled its revenue and tripled its customer base since closing its $90 million Series C round in 2020.
The Growth Equity business within Goldman Sachs Asset Management led the company's Series D round, with follow-on investments from 83North and Dell Technologies Capital.
“Exotec is well-positioned to seize the enormous warehouse automation market opportunity both because of its global presence and strong track record of success with industry-leading retailers and brands”, said Christian Resch, managing director in Goldman Sachs' Growth Equity business. “Exotec builds scalable solutions that are an accelerant for change and support business growth despite market disruptions.”
France is well-represented in the robotics industry. Why? “Two aspects make it good: First, the government has offered many incentives to support startups,” replied Moulin. “Second, with strong education in mathematics, we have lots of AI and software engineers. Up to 70% of our research and development people are working on software, which is easier to modify than the robot climbing a shelf.”
The company currently employs more than 300 people worldwide and said it plans to double its headcount by 2023. It offers 24/7 support from its control center.
“We've been fortunate in that we've been able to choose our investors, who are also advisors to Exotec,” said Moulin. “We've started with a small installed base at major retailers, which has helped our reputation.”
Exotec finds North American users, partners
“The U.S. will be a priority market for us this year,” said Moulin. “Last year, we signed eight large enterprise customers in the U.S., and we plan to continue expanding in that market.”
Exotec's new enterprise customers included Gap and Geodis, and it expanded its work with existing clients in new markets, including 2,000 robots in North America.
Decathlon, which claims to be the largest sporting goods retailer in the world, recently deployed the Skypod system in its Montreal fulfillment center following successful deployments in Europe.
“Exotec warehouse robotics have transformed our logistics operations in multiple markets around the world, most recently in our Montreal fulfillment center,” said Richard Tremblay, logistics manager at Decathlon Canada. “We value the unique combination of speed, performance, and flexibility that allows us to provide leading service to our customers. We look forward to a long-term partnership with Exotec.”
“We've sold robots to customers in Japan by building trust,” Moulin said. “We maintain and guarantee our systems for 10 years, and we've proven that we can deploy our system with people we've just hired.”
In addition, Exotec looking for the right collaborators, he said.
“Today, Exotec works with industry-leading integrators around the world, and we’ll continue to expand our partnership network in the coming years,” said Moulin. “Part of our Series D investment will be dedicated to expanding partnership in R&D to accelerate our next generation of products, provided that we find the right technological and cultural fit in our partners.”
About the Author
Eugene Demaitre is editorial director of Robotics 24/7. Prior to joining Peerless Media, he was a senior editor at Robotics Business Review and The Robot Report. Demaitre has also worked for BNA (now part of Bloomberg), Computerworld, and TechTarget. He has participated in numerous robotics-related webinars, podcasts, and events worldwide.
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