Amazon has made a number of startup acquisitions over the years to grow its robotics business; now, the e-commerce giant is taking an interesting twist on that strategy as it expands its industrial warehouse capabilities. The company acquires Cloostermans, a Belgian company specializing in mechatronics.
It develops technology for scrolling and stacking pallets and heavy bags, and robotics used to pack products for customer orders. Amazon has been a customer of Cloostermans since 2019 for its e-commerce operations, and is making the acquisition to increase its development and implementation processes in this area.
“We are excited to join the Amazon family and expand the impact we can have globally,” said Frederik Berckmoes-Joos, CEO of Cloostermans, in a blog post published by Amazon. “Amazon has raised the bar for how supply chain technologies can benefit employees and customers, and we look forward to being part of the next chapter of that innovation.”
The big picture for Amazon is that it will likely do a lot more in warehouse robotics in the coming years to meet the demands of its ever-expanding e-commerce operation.
Robots could be the solution
An internal company report leaked to Vox earlier this year predicts that Amazon is facing a major shortage of workers in its warehouses — not necessarily because of the labor disputes it’s facing in various markets, but because it’s running out of people to hire. . The report suggests that, along with higher wages, more automation could be a way to alleviate this crisis. Deals like this one to take over Cloostermans and increase the use of robotics in those warehouses would fit that strategy.
Namely, Cloostermans is not a startup, nor is it a typical merger and acquisition target for a technology giant: it was founded in 1884 and has been a private company for the last six generations.
Amazon is not disclosing the financial terms of the deal, but it will be joined by about 200 engineers and other Cloostermans professionals.
Amazon has expanded its robotics work in Europe in recent years, including opening a robotics innovation lab in Italy and operating an R&D facility in Germany; and is aggressively recruiting robotics experts elsewhere.
As such, Amazon will continue to operate out of Cloostermans’ facilities in a town called Hamme after the deal (we don’t yet have details on that closure).
Amazon’s robotic ecosystems — which include both its industrial warehouse operations and products more directly connected to consumers and the user experience — have been built over the years through a combination of acquisitions, internal development and partnerships with third parties.
The consumer business included the $1.7 billion acquisition of iRobot earlier this year, and Dispatch was acquired in 2019 to build its Scout autonomous delivery robot. Meanwhile, some of the key acquisitions for the growth of its industrial business include the acquisition of Kiva in 2012 worth $775 million and Canvas Technology in 2019 for just over $100 million.
In particular, the deal with Kiva resulted in about 520,000 robotic propulsion units distributed in warehouses around the world, Amazon announced on its blog. Kiwi’s technology, now incorporated into Amazon Robotics, was also instrumental in the development of Proteus, an autonomous warehouse robot launched earlier this year. Amazon said it also hired about a million people for its warehouses.
All this was complemented by the internal development of an extensive network of partnerships with third parties. Cloostermans was in the latter category, making machines to automate packaging orders and move product boxes from place to place for that purpose.
Amazon wanted to have it because it plans to expand its ability to design and build these types of machines and how it uses them in its warehouses.
With information from TechCrunch
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