Amazon has made a series of startup acquisitions over the years to build its bot business; Now, leviathan e-commerce company is taking an interesting turn in that strategy as it expands the capabilities of industrial warehouses. Amazon acquires Klostermans, a company from Belgium specialized in mechatronics. Technology has been built to transport and stack heavy pallets and handbags, and use robots to pack products to customer orders. Amazon has been using these products as a Cloostermans customer since 2019 for their e-commerce operations; It is making the acquisition to ramp up research, development and publication in that region.
Frederic Berkmus-Joss, CEO of Cloostermans, said in a statement at Blog post Posted 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 this innovation.”
The bigger picture for Amazon is that it will likely do a lot more with warehouse bots in the coming years to meet the demands of its ever-increasing e-commerce operation.
An internal company report was leaked earlier this year to Fox I predicted that Amazon would face a major shortage of workers in its warehouses — not necessarily because of the labor disputes it faces in different markets, but because of the running out of people to hire. The report noted that along with higher wages, more automation could be one way to offset that crisis. Deals like this to acquire Cloostermans and ramp up their use of bots in those repositories would fit into this strategy.
Notably, Cloostermans is not a startup, nor is it a typical target for leviathan technology mergers and acquisitions: it was founded in 1884 and has been kept privately for the past six generations.
Amazon has not disclosed the financial terms of the deal, but it will see 200 mechanics, engineers and other Cloostermans join Amazon.
Amazon has expanded its robotics business into Europe in recent years, including opening a robotics innovation lab in Italy and operating research and development facilities in Germany; As you can see from it storyboardIt’s hiring aggressively in robotics, both in those places and elsewhere. You can now add operations in Belgium to that list: Amazon will continue to operate from Cloostermans facilities in a town called Hamme after the deal is complete (no details on the timing of this shutdown).
Cloostermans do not appear to have had any outside investment. You could say it was “booted”, although I’m not sure you could apply that term to a family owned business as old as this one. From what I understand, Amazon was one of the Cloistermans’ biggest customers; Its other customers will continue to serve until the end of their existing contracts — which means those customers may not be renewed while Amazon ramps up its involvement in the business.
Amazon’s ecosystem of robotics—which includes both what it does for industrial warehouse operations, as well as products more connected to consumers and customer experience—have been built over the years through a combination of acquisitions, in-house development, and partnerships with third parties.
The consumer branch included the acquisition of iRobot earlier this year for $1.7 billion, and Dispatch was selected in 2019 to build the autonomous delivery robot Scout. Meanwhile, some of the key acquisitions to build its manufacturing business included the $775 million acquisition of Kiva in 2012 and Canvas Technology in 2019 for A little over $100 million.
Amazon said in its blog post that the Kiva deal in particular resulted in the distribution of about 520,000 robotic engine units across warehouses around the world. Kiva technology, now folded into Amazon Robotics, has also been instrumental in the development of ProteusIt is an autonomous mobile warehouse bot that was unveiled earlier this year. Amazon said it has also employed about 1 million people in its warehouses.
All this was complemented by the in-house development of an extensive network of third-party partnerships. Cloostermans were part of the latter category, building machines to automate packing orders and move boxes of products from one place to another for this purpose. Amazon wanted to take it in-house because it plans to expand its ability to design and build those kinds of machines and how they’re used in their warehouses. (I asked but had no idea if that would be for non-perishable goods, for electronics, or for sensitive products like food for an ever-growing grocery business. The idea could be to develop for all of those, and even for the scenarios that might be in which packing items to customers in retail locations.)
“Amazon’s investments in robotics and technology support how we build a better, safer workplace for our employees and deliver to our customers,” Ian Simpson, Vice President of Global Robotics at Amazon, said in a statement. “As we continue to expand and accelerate the robots and technology we design, engineer and deploy across our operations, we look forward to welcoming Cloostermans to Amazon and are excited to see what we can build together.”
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