Amazon has made a series of startup acquisitions over the years to build its robotics business; now the e-commerce leviathan is taking an interesting turn in that strategy as it expands its industrial warehouse capabilities. Amazon acquires Klostermans, a company from Belgium that specializes in mechatronics – specifically, technology for moving and stacking heavy pallets and knapsacks, and robotics used to pack products together for customer orders. Amazon has been using these products as a Cloostermans customer since 2019; is making the acquisition to increase its mechatronics R&D and deployment.
“We are excited to join the Amazon family and expand the impact we can have on a global scale,” said Frederik Berkmos-Joos, CEO of Cloostermans, in a statement in blog post published by Amazon. “Amazon has raised the bar for how supply chain technology 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 in warehouse robotics in the coming years to meet the demands of its ever-expanding e-commerce business.
An internal report at the company was leaked earlier this year to Vox predicts that Amazon is facing a major shortage of workers in its warehouses — not necessarily because of the labor disputes it faces in various markets, but because it lacks people to hire. The report suggests that, along with higher wages, additional automation could be one way to offset this crisis. Deals like the one to acquire Cloostermans and increase the use of robotics in those warehouses would fit into that strategy.
It should be noted that Cloostermans is not a start-up company, nor is it a typical M&A target for a tech leviathan: it was founded in 1884 and has been privately owned for the past six generations.
Amazon did not disclose the financial terms of the deal, but about 200 machinists, engineers and others from Cloostermans will join Amazon.
In recent years, Amazon has been expanding its robotics work in Europe, including opening a robotics innovation lab in Italy and operating research and development facilities in Germany; and as you can see from it job board, it is hiring aggressively in robotics both in these locations and elsewhere. Now you can add operations in Belgium to that list: Amazon will continue to operate out of Cloostermans facilities in a town called Hamme after the deal closes (there are no details on the timing of that closing).
It does not appear that Cloostermans had any outside investments. You could say it’s “started up”, although I’m not even sure you can apply that term to a family company as old as this one. As I understand it, Amazon is one of Cloistermans biggest customers; other customers will continue to be served until the end of their existing contracts – meaning they may not be renewed as Amazon strengthens its commitment to the business.
Amazon’s robotic ecosystems — which include both what it does for its industrial warehouse operations and products that are more directly related to consumers and the customer experience — have been built over the years through a combination of acquisitions, internal development and third-party partnerships .
The consumer branch includes the acquisition of iRobot earlier this year for $1.7 billionand Dispatch was taken in 2019 to build its autonomous delivery robot Scout. Meanwhile, some of the key acquisitions to build its industrial business include the $775 million acquisition of the Kiva in 2012 and Canvas Technology in 2019 for just over $100 million.
Specifically, the Kiva deal resulted in about 520,000 robotic actuators distributed in warehouses around the world and about 1 million related jobs, Amazon said in its blog post. Kiva is also central to the development of Proteusan autonomous mobile warehouse robot that it introduced earlier this year.
All this is complemented by in-house development and a wide network of third-party partnerships. Cloostermans was part of the latter category, creating machines to automate packing orders and moving boxes of products from one location to another for this purpose. Amazon wanted to take it home because it plans to expand its capacity to design and build these types of machines and how it uses them in its warehouses. (I asked but had no idea if this would be for perishables, or electronics, or delicate products like food for the ever-growing grocery business. Probably the idea could be to develop for all of them and even scenarios , where items may be packaged for retail customers.)
“Amazon’s investments in robotics and technology support the way we build a better, safer workplace for our employees and deliver for our customers,” Ian Simpson, vice president of Global Robotics at Amazon, said in a statement. “As we continue to expand and accelerate the robotics and technologies we design, engineer and implement in our operations, we look forward to welcoming Cloostermans to Amazon and are excited to see what we can build together.”