August 15, 2017      

Last month, Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd., or ST Engineering, announced its intention to acquire Aethon Inc. and add Aethon’s mobile logistics robots to its ST Kinetics division.

Prior to this announcement, Aethon sold its MedEx pharmacy product to software vendor Inmar Inc. in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The materials handling and logistics robotics market will grow to $75 billion by 2027, predicts IDTechEx.

About the $36 million acquisition, Aethon President and CEO Aldo Zini said, “We’re now part of a multi-billion-dollar company. The resources and capital to really grow and accelerate are fantastic now, and we’re going to take advantage of it.”

The merger provides several synergies for the two companies:

  • ST Engineering provides a global footprint for Aethon distribution.
  • ST Engineering opens up the Asia-Pacific region for Aethon, starting with Singapore.
  • Aethon brings a solid and mature mobile robot technology to the ST Kinetics portfolio.

“We’re going to grow the Aethon business both here and in the Asia-Pac countries as well as in Europe,” Zini told Robotics Business Review. “Aethon will continue to operate out of Pittsburgh and will grow. We will join forces with our colleagues in STK to capitalize on our opportunities.”

“We will also continue to innovate with the investment from STK, and look at expansion into other applications and markets,” he said.

ST Engineering benefits from mobile robot pioneer

Pittsburgh-based Aethon is one of the early pioneers in the autonomous mobile robot market. Its platform is used in more than 150 hospitals worldwide. Aethon has continuously innovated in this market, evolving a robust platform and became the dominant mobile robot supplier for healthcare applications.

ST Engineering has acquired Aethon's expertise with materials handling.

An Aethon TUG at work in a hospital.

Another innovation is Aethon’s Cloud Command Center, which enabled its support team to help program systems, remotely monitor the operation of robots in the hospitals, and quickly recover the systems if there was an error.

“In the healthcare market, our customers never wanted to be robot experts, so we developed the cloud command center as a solution to support robots in the field,” said Tony Melanson, vice president of marketing at Aethon.

From the hospital to the manufacturing floor

Over the past two years, Aethon has expanded its reach and product line to serve applications on the manufacturing floor. At the 2015 Automate show, the company first demonstrated its TUG T3 platform with a heavier payload and omni-directional wheels. This new system was ideally suited for the heavier payloads in manufacturing applications as well as cart transport use cases.

In my opinion, we have more experience than any other vendor in terms of autonomous mobile robots. We have a platform that can scale from lightweight capacity to very high payloads. We have a navigation system which is superior to many out in the market today. Our technology is solid; it’s proven. We have certain capabilities that others don’t have.

— Aldo Zini, president, Aethon

“Two years ago, we weren’t even in the industrial space, and now we have multiple customers here in the U.S. and around the globe,” noted Zini. “This speaks for itself about how the industrial market is responding to our technology.”

As Aethon expanded globally, it reached out to defense supplier ST Engineering as a potential channel partner in Asia and other regions. The relationship soon expanded as both companies realized the potential of combining forces.

ST Engineering is a $4.97 billion (SGD $6.8 billion) public company with a broad portfolio. The Singapore-based company was already on the investment path to grow its fledgling robotics division. ST Kinetics has been developing robotics market for a while, and its first product is an autonomous shuttle bus.

The addition of Aethon to its product family provides ST Kinetics with immediate credibility in the mobile robotics market along with a large installed base. The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter of 2017.

The bottom line for Aethon is that through the acquisition, it now has the ability to execute on a robust product roadmap. With the capital assets and broader resources of ST Kinetics, Aethon can now leverage both companies’ experience and market leadership to grow their business.

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Editor’s Note: Author Mike Oitzman will be participating in panels at RoboBusiness 2017 next month in Santa Clara, Calif.