They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but sometimes selfishness is invention’s uncle. The founders of the French company Exotec demonstrate this all too well. Back in 2014, Amazon announced that it would be keeping its famed KIVA robot technology entirely to itself. Because of that, companies all around the world needed intralogistics solutions; in lay terms, they needed robots that could quickly, safely, and automatically obtain items from shelves and move them where they needed to go. Amazon’s decision meant that their robotics innovations would be their market advantage, and it issued an indirect challenge to the rest of the world: if you want to compete, you are going to have to find another solution. Two French engineers heard this challenge, and started discussing the topic while sitting on their daily bus ride to work. By 2015, they had figured out that they could do what Amazon was doing, but better: they designed a robotic order preparation system using a fleet of robots able to move in three dimensions. They named this product the “Skypod”.
To the Sky
By 2017, Exotec had figured out its primary innovation, but it still took some time for the company to get going. That year, their revenue was just over 700,000 EUR. That number exceeded 105 million EUR in 2021. And just recently, Exotec announced 335 million USD in series D financing at a valuation of 2 billion. The key to the company’s meteoric rise is the Skypod’s flexibility and versatility. The Skypod system is made out of three components: bins (small containers up to 600 x 400 x 400 mm, where items are stored), which are placed on racks (shelving systems that fill warehouses, where the bins are placed), and the Skypod robots themselves. These robots zip around the warehouses and perform automated tasks that are difficult for humans. They move at 4 m/s, carry up to 30 kg, move in 3 dimensions (including ver, and operate in temperatures down to 0°C. Most importantly, these robots can run 24/7 with very little human intervention. As such, Skypod systems have been deployed at major distribution companies and SMEs in a wide range of activities such as textile, cultural products, pharmacy, cosmetics, home furnishings, and food.
These industries may seem quite different, but they all have one thing in common: they are all looking for a 100% accuracy in order preparation at the lowest possible cost. Part of keeping costs low has to do with keeping designs simple. Because the systems are so simply, their stations can reach up to 600 items per hour and an increased flow capacity can be achieved by simply adding a robot to the system. The racks are what make this system so simple. Since they are completely passive, the installation lead time is much shorter than traditional Good-to-Person systems and it can be scaled to match the activity growth. Thus, as a company grows, and consumer demand grows, it is quicky, easy, and efficient to scale the Skypod system with the increased demand.
Like any business, the key to Exotec’s growth has been adaptability, flexibility, and scalability. The more they innovate, the more investment they receive and the better they serve their partners. Just like their robots, it seems that this company has no vertical limit.