AutoStore, which makes automated storage and retrieval systems, yesterday announced that SoftBank Group Corp. will spend $2.8 billion to acquire 40% of the company from funds affiliated with Thomas H. Lee Partners L.P. and EQT Private Equity, among other shareholders. AutoStore said the funding will enable it to accelerate its global expansion, “with particular emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region.”
Nedre Vats, Norway-based AutoStore was founded in 1996 and develops proprietary software and hardware to make warehouse operations more efficient. The company claimed that its Cube Storage Automation is “the densest storage technology.” AutoStore said that more than 20,000 of its robots are currently deployed in more than 600 installations in 35 countries. It has facilities in 11 nations and works with a network of qualified integrators.
Tokyo-based SoftBank Group has invested more than $100 billion in numerous technology and robotics companies, including Aldebaran, Cruise, Nuro, Uber Advanced Technology Group, and Berkshire Grey. In December 2020, the company sold its interest in Boston Dynamics to Hyundai Motor Group. SoftBank Robotics, which includes the former Aldebaran, makes the Pepper humanoid service robot and BrainOS-powered commercial cleaning and disinfection robots.
SoftBank supports cube storage approach
AutoStore said its automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) can provide supply chains with high throughput, enhanced configurability, and high levels of flexibility. The company added that its cube storage can enable customers to store four times the inventory in the same space or all of their existing inventory in 25% of the space.
AutoStore systems serve markets including e-commerce, grocery, industrial, and healthcare in warehouse, retail locations, or micro-fulfillment centers. It recently unveiled an innovation hub in Norway and partnered with Asian-American grocer H Mart and Bastian Solutions.
“We view AutoStore as a foundational technology that enables rapid and cost-effective logistics for companies around the globe,” stated Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of SoftBank Group. “We look forward to working with AutoStore to aggressively expand across end markets and geographies.”
“We are delighted for SoftBank to join the AutoStore team as we continue on our journey to automate all commerce and deliver best-in-class automation solutions to our customers,” said Karl Johan Lier, president and CEO of AutoStore. Our world-class investor group brings exceptional experience from multiple geographies, and we are thrilled to have SoftBank's leadership and support on a global scale, but particularly with our vision for growth in Asia-Pacific.”
Partners to join AutoStore board
Since 1974, Thomas H. Lee Partners (THL) has invested in financial services, healthcare, and technology and business solutions. The Boston-based private equity firm has raised more than $25 billion in equity capital, invested in more than 150 companies, and completed more than 400 add-on acquisitions valued more than $200 billion.
THL will continue to be AutoStore's majority shareholder, and THL, SoftBank, and EQT will each have representatives on the company's board of directors. AutoStore said it will be valued at $7.7 billion after the SoftBank investment.
“We believe the SoftBank partnership, in support of Karl Johan and the fantastic team at AutoStore, will help accelerate growth and unlock AutoStore's massive potential,” said Jim Carlisle, managing director at THL and chairman of the board at AutoStore, with Mike Kaczmarek, managing director at THL. “We are thrilled to welcome SoftBank as our new partner and are very excited for what the future holds for AutoStore.”
The ASRS market will grow from $7.3 billion in 2020 to $10 billion by 2025 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8%, predicts Markets and Markets. The research firm attributed the growth to labor shortages and accelerated e-commerce demand during the COVID-19 pandemic and said it will be strong in the Asia-Pacific region.
The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions and is expected to be completed this month, said AutoStore and SoftBank.
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