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How Exotec’s robots are transforming the warehouse industry

There is a quiet revolution underway in the fast-growing warehouse industry, as pioneering robotic solutions delivered by France’s first industrial unicorn, Exotec, reshape the future of warehouse automation. Now operating across three continents, Exotec’s high-speed international expansion was empowered by BNP Paribas.

Exotec, a robotic logistics

First, Exotec identified a challenge: obvious inefficiencies in warehouses, given that the vast majority are using outdated technology. Then, Exotec provided the solution. Now, its unparalleled 3D robots are successfully automating these processes with cutting-edge inventory storage and retrieval systems, in a milestone development for global supply chains.

Founded in 2015 near Lille, Exotec’s mission is to transform warehousing efficiency. More than two thirds of warehouses worldwide could make game-changing efficiency gains – benefiting both businesses and their employees – by using Exotec’s state-of-the-art robots and software, which render traditional methods such as forklift trucks obsolete.

Unlike existing 2D systems, Exotec’s Skypod system deploys small robots capable of moving in 3D to reach goods at heights of up to 12 meters. In addition, its Skypath conveyor system can transport up to 2,500 trays or bins per hour, while its Skypicker robotic arm which harnesses machine learning can now process 600 items an hour. Its Deepsky end-to-end warehouse software can even coordinate with third-party equipment and is part of Exotec’s drive to provide robotic solutions for the whole warehousing process, from the moment that goods arrive until they are shipped off to their final destination.

Maximizing the efficiency of storage systems

Exotec’s automated system enables clients to optimize warehouse operations by maximizing storagespace and warehouse density, enabling clients to create more value, especially by selling more products because operations are so much more efficient. Crucially, Exotec’s modular systems are designed for plug-and-play simplicity and can be installed in just a few months, ensuring minimal disruption to ongoing operations. They are also easily scalable, and offer round-the-clock off-site system monitoring.

The widespread demand for Exotec’s unique solutions allowed it to scale up quickly over the last three years: sales have shot up sixfold, with annual revenues now around €300 million. At its latest funding round in 2022, it was valued at €1.7bn. Today, Exotec produces half of its turnover in Europe and most of the remainder in North America and Japan, with clients including Carrefour, Decathlon, Uniqlo and Gap. It now has some 7,000 robots operating across 12 countries.

As a company that is growing a lot, everything is about anticipation. So we need a banking partner that understands our business and our challenges well enough in order to be able to anticipate.

Romain Moulin & Renaud Heitz 

CEO of Exotec  / Exotec’s co-founder and CTO

Renaud Heitz, Exotec’s co-founder and CTO, explains that given the “huge effort” in research and development in the company’s early stages, “we wanted to grow as fast as possible in order to benefit from this investment in our product.”

He adds: “As a company that is growing a lot, everything is about anticipation. So we need a banking partner that understands our business and our challenges well enough in order to be able to anticipate – not only to propose the solution that we need now, but also to propose a solution that we will need in a few months, and in a few years.”

In BNP Paribas, Exotec found what it was looking for. The first contact came in mid-2022 through one of Exotec’s clients, which wanted their robots, but with a leasing solution. BNP Paribas provided one, not only making the deal possible, but leading to a lasting partnership with one of France’s fastest-growing companies.

In such a fast-moving situation, Guylaine Kerforn, senior banker for innovative companies at BNP Paribas, highlights the importance of staying focused on core issues: “It's about listening to the client every day, really every day… you have to make sure that you address the key need – the one that is constantly present.”

Exotec’s Skypod system deploys small robots capable of moving in 3D to reach goods at heights of up to 12 meters.

Supporting Exotec's global expansion

Very soon, BNP Paribas began powering Exotec’s global expansion, taking care of complex operations like opening foreign bank accounts and lowering risk by providing hedging for revenues in foreign currencies. This streamlined Exotec’s entry into Japan in 2019 and the US in 2020.

BNP Paribas also provides working capital funding and helps Exotec to grow its customer base through deposit refund guarantees and financing arrangements for clients – an especially popular service in this environment of high interest rates. To continue its growth, Exotec is collaborating with BNP Paribas on more strategic issues: M&A operations and fundraising strategies.

BNP Paribas is a very valuable partner given its global reach and the variety of products that we can draw on in order to support our growth… As a global bank, BNP Paribas is one of the few which is able to serve our growing operational needs and more strategic types of services such as investment banking and financing,” says Yann Leca, Exotec’s CFO, praising the speed with which BNP Paribas provides these services. “It's quite remarkable for a global bank to be able to act very quickly.”

Yann Leca, Exotec’s CFO & Guylaine Kerforn, Senior banker for innovative companies at BNP Paribas

With e-commerce and increasingly scarce and expensive labor fueling a boom in the global market for warehouse robotics, it is expected to be growing annually at 11.5% by 2025. This growth will be bolstered by other global trends that have heightened uncertainties and laid bare the fragility of globalized supply chains, prompting the relocation of industrial production closer to home. Until recently, warehouse operators had seen automation as a long-term project, but many are now planning to automate their warehouses in the next 2-3 years.

With BNP Paribas’s continued support, Exotec is confident that it can turn these trends to its advantage and stay at the forefront of the supply chain revolution. As Guylaine Kerforn put it: “They are on their way to achieving something really unbelievable. The ‘wow’ effect of Exotec is not over.”

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