The next time you order a book online, it may be packed by a team of robots as well as people. No longer just the stuff of science fiction, robots today are ubiquitous in manufacturing plants and warehouses, where they provide numerous advantages over humans. Their makers are becoming attractive acquisition targets from buyers all over the globe.
Along with accelerating production systems and improving accuracy, robots can be programmed to work in multiple places on the assembly line. Robots can also take on tasks that are too dangerous for workers and they can operate for long periods without becoming tired or racking up overtime wages, allowing owners to cut labor costs.
Take Bubble Wrap owner Sealed Air Corp. (NYSE: SEE) for instance. In August, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based company said it will buy B+ Equipment, a French automated packaging company. Sealed Air product care president Kenneth Chrisman says the purchase will put Sealed Air in a better position to reduce shipping costs while increasing production. In a similar deal announced earlier this year, Japan’s Omron Corp. (TYO: 6645), a sensor-control technology company, announced plans to pay $200 million in cash for Adept Technology Inc. (Nasdaq: ADEP). Adept, founded in 1983, makes mobile robots that are used to speed up manufacturing and packaging processes. The target serves the medical, food and industrial sectors.
Teradyne Inc. (NYSE: TER), which makes equipment that tests semiconductors, recently bought Universal Robots for $285 million. The target company supplies robots that work side by side with manufacturing workers. Automated systems maker Omnicell Inc. (NASDAQ: OMCL) is acquiring Aesynt, a manufacturer of drug-dispensing robots, from Francisco Partners for $275 million. A seminal deal in the sector was Amazon.com Inc.’s (Nasdaq: AMZN) $775 million purchase of Kiva Systems Inc. in 2012. Now a wholly-owned subsidiary called Amazon Robotics, the North Reading, Massachusetts, group focuses on automating fulfillment-center operations using a wide range of robotic technology, including autonomous mobile robots, language perception and machine learning. Technology promises to make robots increasingly useful and the companies that make them increasingly desirable.